Reflections:   Apr 2010.    2nd Qtr 2010

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Blessed Spring Emergence Relatives,

As a consequence of the recent indictment of a new age guru on charges of manslaughter in the deaths of three participants in a so called “sweat lodge” experience at a retreat facility in AZ last year and its subsequent resurgence in the media, several people have solicited my perspective on this tragedy.

To begin with, I extend my prayers for safe Journeys to those who have passed on from this unfortunate incident and my sincere condolences to the families and friends who remain here to walk the path of grief.

Besides the absolutely misguided notion that warriorship can be taught and realized in the course of a week as well as the mercenary act of charging a ridiculous sum which included an experience billed as a “native ceremony” (for which there is never a charge in North America), his conduct is reprehensible ­ it exemplifies egregious negligence, cultural misappropriation, disrespect and abuse. Without equivocation, had this man been properly trained and sanctioned, this calamity would have been circumvented. Bear in mind this is not the first time fatalities have occurred in “sweat lodges” at the hands of unqualified individuals.

Native ceremonies are Medicine Ways. As such, they require years of apprenticeship, which include rigorous training and initiations, under the tutelage of recognized Medicine people before one is qualified to serve in such a capacity. Upon embarking on the path, just as in the martial arts and allopathic medicine, there are levels of training and mastery ­ in the latter, referred to as scope of practice.

The Purification Lodge (as opposed to a new age “sweat lodge”) is no exception. It is a powerful, Sacred, Indigenous Prayer and Healing ceremony. It is not a game. Nor is it a glorified sauna (as found in a spa or fitness center), a prison or an endurance test. It is an essential component of worship in the Native Way of Life. There are requirements and criteria that must be satisfied well before the training to become a water pourer for the people is even considered. Once achieved and the Blessing to begin bestowed by the mentor, the evolution of the education is extensive and includes innumerable tests, responsibilities and thresholds to pass before final approval and sanction is granted. Virtually every culture on the planet has a form of cleansing and healing in this manner ­ with variations between each tribe and family, observing and strictly adhering to its own specific songs, procedures and protocols. Hence the years of immersion, study and praxis to familiarize oneself with the complexities and nuances of the ceremony.

It is understood and enforced in the Western world that practicing contemporary medicine without a license or beyond one’s scope of training is unlawful and is subject to criminal charges. Yet there is a fundamental disrespect and disregard for the Medicine Ways of other cultures - the same proscriptions do not apply. By analogy, if I were invited to attend and witness circumcision ceremonies in the Jewish faith or open-heart surgeries in a hospital (or obtained information from merely reading a book or surfing the internet), it would be presumptuous to think such exposure would qualify me to conduct the ceremony or perform the operation. Yet this perception of entitlement is the prevailing attitude encountered in the colonial world regarding Indigenous ceremonial practices, which leads to misappropriation and negligence, often with unseen and dire consequences.

To serve as a spiritual leader is a Sacred trust. One is responsible for the lives and welfare of the people ­ to protect and support. It is evident there was abuse of this trust ­ in addition to misleading those in attendance through misrepresentation, there was a fundamental lack of awareness of the health concerns of those in his care and a refusal to heed the appeals of departure from the participants while in the structure. Were he a qualified and sanctioned ceremonial leader, he would be far more sensitive and observant of what is transpiring, less dogmatic and the Ancestors with whom he would have cultivated a direct and abiding relationship would have informed him of the condition of the people and instructed him accordingly ­ thereby diffusing a perilous situation.

As the late Grandmother Paula Underwood of the Haudenosaunee People would often query: “So, what may we learn from this?” In a word: discernment. Ask questions. Not long ago, before the commencement of a ceremony, an Ojibwe woman pulled me aside. She prayed I would not be offended by her questions: The duration I have walked the Red Road…The number of years I have Sundanced…The Medicine men/women who trained and sanctioned me to pour water...The length of time I have been conducting lodges…willingly answering her, I was not offended in the slightest. In fact, I was honoured and commended her for the inquiries - they indicated she had been educated in a good way by her Traditional family, elders and mentors. As a result of my responses as well as the ease and lack of resistance to answering, both she and her daughter remained to participate.

Undoubtedly there are gurus, healers and spiritual teachers of questionable authority, accountability, scruples and experience in the world. The best antidote to safeguard oneself and others from misfortune is to be aware and pay attention - open one’s eyes and ears ­ and, at an appropriate moment, to simply ask questions regarding their qualifications. Based upon their reply, your impression and feelings, make an informed determination.

This is your right and ultimately, it may save your life.



Last updated Apr 01, 2010