On Saturday 5 November 2016, I participated in a conference about the wisdom of indigenous people, by Sylvain Gillier-Imbs, at the Bibliothèque Pythagore. I came to this conference completely ignorant of any information about Native Americans, so everything I heard was new to me. The conference was also in French so there might be elements lost in translation. Here I’ll just mention some elements of the conference which talked about the Navajo organization of society and spirituality, infusing it once in a while with some of my own knowledge and research results.
The conference started off by saying that for the Native Americans, the search for who we are is crucial. It’s important to discover who you are.
There was also a brief mention of Paracelsus, 16th century physician, philosopher, occultist, astrologer, etc. who believed that sickness and health in the body were dependent on man’s harmony with nature, man being the microcosm and nature being the macrocosm. Rather than accepting ancient texts and their remedies, he went by his own beliefs and intuition. Believing that everything in the universe was interrelated and that the universe was all one coherent organism animated by the lifegiving spirit, and that all this, man included, was God, put him at odds with the Church which believed that there had to be a difference between the Creator and the created. Paracelsus acknowledged receiving his medical insights from sorcerers, who in turn draw their powers and insights from the cosmic memory of humanity, just like the Native American “medicine men”. As a matter of fact, homeopathy and osteopathy is said to come from Native American wisdom, osteopathy in particular from the Cherokee people.
We jump to the next subject. Rudolf Steiner notably spoke about the “souls of the nations” and the idea that every society or folk-soul on Earth has a mission in the global plan for humanity. The Native Americans also have a common mission for humanity, which was paused until the 21st century, when humanity would need their message the most: that everything is sacred, from the mountains to the tiniest plant or animal. You can read more about the missions of folk-souls in Rudolf Steiner’s lecture here. In a time when man’s connection to spirit and nature would be completely severed, and their lives would subside to worship of money and material objects, while disregarding fellow humans.
As an example, there used to be a Hopi reservation inside the Navajo Nation, which might surprise many of us because we’re so used to borders delimiting countries and to see a country inside a country (for example the Vatican City in the middle of Italy) is something unusual. To the Native Americans, borders aren’t important. When you ask a Native American where he lives, he’ll just extend his hand and show you everything you can see around you. In such a society, there is no need for competition or rivalry. Now, since the US found a coal (?) mine in the middle of the reservations, they decided to simply take that piece of that land in order to exploit it.
“Controversy arose from an unusually generous mineral lease agreement negotiated under questionable circumstances between the Tribes and Peabody Energy, the coal company’s use and degradation of a potable source of water to transport coal via a pipeline from the mine to a power plant hundreds of miles away, and the public health and environmental impacts of strip mining on tribal lands.” (Black Mesa Peabody Coal controversy)
This began in the 1960s and it’s not the only example, and even today we’re seeing it happen once again with the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s interesting to observe that this time, thanks to the Internet, the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is diffusing all over the web and on social media, reaching people all over the world who in turn are becoming more and more riled up about what’s happening. (Could it be Steiner’s “prophecy” coming true?)
The reason why the Native Americans might have this common mission for humanity could be related back to the Native American creation story, in this case the Navajo creation story. You can read the full story on this website. The Navajo believe that we’re currently living in the fourth world, Nihalgai, the Glittering or White World. After the destruction of the third world, the fourth world was covered with water that glittered and everything looked white. Hence the Glittering World or White World. (The similarity with the Genesis flood narrative!) To summarize, humanity has been through three worlds already – the Black World (The First World) or Nihodilhil, the Blue World or Nihodootlizh, and the Yellow World or Nihaltsoh. Every world is created in a spiritual way. Every world is born and every world dies and thus is the cyclical nature of reality.
Everything in the world is also created in a spiritual way and has a spiritual source. For example the mountains were created by giants, and the rivers were created by spiritual beings as well. Geography is sacred to them, and there are also the sacred mountains in the four directions which are home to the spirits. The map of these sacred mountains in the four directions creates a mandala in which the Navajo people live.
Carl G. Jung’s advice once was to try to create a mandala of your day upon waking up, in order to define your day and define who you are. The Navajo also do this, and they also create sand mandalas. As a matter of fact, circles are considered very important in the Navajo society, because they symbolize who we are, our acts, their consequences, and so on. Here is a picture of this ritual from this article by emeritus professor of anthropology and religion Charles Laughlin, which explains it in more detail.
These mandalas are considered therapeutic or healing works, created by a medicine man, they are not considered art. In a way, it is a form of initiation to have your sand mandala drawn by a medicine man, just like in Christian Europe you would go through a Biblical initiation in which elements of the Holy Grail are symbolized. These ceremonies are carried out to this day, with the mandalas being 3-4 meters in diameter and initiations sometimes lasting a whole night.
There was a short break in the conference and the new subject of interest was horses.
In Navajo spirituality, horses are a sacred being, created from the four directions. As opposed to how horses are kept in enclosures in Europe, the US and most countries, the Navajo don’t keep their horses in an enclosure. The horses will come each morning to eat, and then they leave. When a Navajo wants to find his horse, he will ask the wind, the trees and the earth where the horses went; he will think about where the horses could have gone, and then he will see tracks that will lead him to his horse.
The Navajo world is a world where everything is alive, and all things are connected and interrelated, where storytelling and the community are of utmost importance. In their eyes, everything up to the house in which you live in is alive. Their homes, or hogans, are at the center of their world. The entrance always faces east, and there are always 6 sides, with a smoke hole in the center of the roof. The hogan is made of 9 logs as there are 9 months of gestation, because the hogan is born. It is always constructed with special wood, with the help of the medicine man.
Apparently, the Navajo are very surprised by our way of living, how we can buy houses and live in them without inquiring about where the materials come from. Just like water has memory, materials also have memory. This is why they believe special buildings such as temples, hospitals, and residences should be built with a lot of care, from special materials. Here is a very interesting article which details more about the Navajo house system.
To end the article, I want to tell you about the concept of hózhó, which is said to be the most important word in the Navajo language. There is no exact translation of the word into the English language, but it can be loosely translated as the combination of peace, balance, beauty and harmony; to be at one with and a part of the world around you; to be in balance and beauty with the world. A connection, or the harmony of opposites in a Taoist sense. When a person gets ill, or he begins to act like the biligana (the white man or one who struggles), it is said that he has a loss of hózhó and that he requires a ritual involving the aforementioned sandpaintings in order to re-establish the harmonious connection. The medicine man or hataali then makes the ritual using all of the songs and sandpaintings required, telling the story of the Navajo as they came from the third world and what their guardian spirits taught them about living in the fourth world. As an example, instead of praying for rain during a drought, the Navajo people hold ceremonies to put them in harmony with the drought.
Seeing how much people today are no longer in harmony with the world, we can see how today we need the idea of hózhó, which ought to be the goal of humanity in the difficult time in which we live in now. Hopefully this folk-soul will complete their common mission for humanity.