People speak a great deal about the “ancient knowledge” that can be used to guide us, frequently referring to the Egyptians, Greeks, and the Aztec and Mayan cultures of the Americas. Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago. The classical period of Greece started around 480 BC. Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around 563 BC.
The Great Pyramid in Egypt was built around 2550 BC. The Mayan calendar begins around 3114 BC. The oldest parts of the Bible refer to the times of Enoch and the prophet Elijah, during the time of the Sumerians, around 3500 BC. So, the oldest of these sources are 5,000−6,000 years old.
Male Patriarchy: Only 2000 Years Old
The salient point is that male patriarchy has only been around about 2,000 years, since the time of the Romans. Before that, matriarchal societies oversaw much of the conduct of humanity—a state that continued in various degrees in the Americas until Europeans came.
For most of the history of humankind, long before the rise of Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, societies were more balanced. And, in fact, the early teachings of each of those religions were more balanced than many of the current teachings regarding the roles of women and men.
Models of Balance: Traditional Native American Societies
Traditional Native American societies may be the best models of balanced societies in existence today—with only about 500 years of European contact and assimilation, versus 2,000 years.
In Native society, an important point for this discussion is how Native people viewed themselves—not their political, social, or religious lives—but as individuals. Without exception, the names that Native groups gave themselves generally translated to “the People” or “human beings.” (Many of the names now given tribes that are recognized by the federal government were ascribed to them by others, frequently their enemies.)
This marks an important aspect of community since it declares each person in the group to have worth as a human being—not as an object or an affiliation (such as a nation-state or ethnic division) but as one of all beings who are human. As a human being, a person has an important distinction: personhood. Along with that distinction, it is understood that everyone starts off equal. (For more on how the original ideas of democracy in the United States were derived Native societies, see Jean Houston’s book, Manual for the Peacemaker.)
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Tribalism: A European Concept
Since every issue has a yang as well as a yin, some have noted that this insistence has a down side for tribes (or, more accurately, bands, moieties, or family groups, since “tribe” is a European concept imposed on Native Americans so that the government could obtain treaties and land rights). That down side is the very notion of tribalism: that one group is composed of “human beings” while another group is not.
In the absence of any view to the contrary, this would seem to be the case; however, in practice, Native groups were very aware of other groups. They even expressed kinship with many of them—for example, claiming a stronger group to be an “uncle” or another to be a “cousin.” Other groupings, even at war, were considered to be “relations.” They might be seen as not right in the head, or bewitched, or led in a bad way, but they were relations, nonetheless.
Modern tribes are designated as tribes because they speak, or spoke, the same language or a dialect; however, prior to European conquest, that didn’t mean that all who spoke one language got along. Some groupings had spun off from others hundreds, even a thousand, years before.
For example, today’s Choctaws, or those allied to them through language, lived in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, but were made up of hundreds of moieties. (The Choctaw language—variants of Muskogean—was often used as a trade language that united many small bands.)
Because of fears over inbreeding, it was common for people to marry outside the tribe. The proscription, however, had a socializing effect beyond the immediate tribe: clans denoted by totems such as wolf, bear, eagle, and the like were shared among far-off relations. They could be counted on to watch over and protect travelers who came hunting or on missions of trade and for gatherings. So, social interaction in peaceful ways was guaranteed over hundreds of miles and often enforced through kinship.
Often, it was said with respect that a person—man or woman— who exemplified ideals of wisdom, courage, leadership, self-sacrifice, and compassion for his or her people, was “a real human being.” Being a human being carried responsibilities that transcended roles, distinctions, clan affiliations, and other duties.
Native Elders Share Wisdom About the Earth
One of my favorite books is Profiles in Wisdom: Native Elders Speak About the Earth by Steven McFadden. In it, he interviews Native people about who they are, how they are coexisting with this society, and they offer a great deal of wisdom, much of it handed down.
In one of the stories, a woman talks about her childhood and how, because she was reared in the Native way, she received the great gift of self-esteem. It was a great gift because of the hardship she had to endure once she was an adult and trying to make her way in the world.
In one telling instance, she talks about how she coped, and how her self-esteem, instilled since childhood, kept her strong. The secret? Although she was raised Catholic, it was the circle of love provided by her family that acted as a mirror to form her early views of herself. “I don’t consider myself an Indian or non-Indian or anything else,” she said. “I consider myself a human being.” With that understanding, all the prejudice and hate she encountered fell away, since those were simply the failures of other human beings.
As stated in To Become a Human Being: The Message of Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah by Steve Wall, “There’s no such thing as Indian. Just ‘Human Being.’”
New Archetypes For A New World
If we are going to start anew with our archetypes, then, what better way to determine the qualities of being that matter than those of being a human being. Traditionally recognized Native traits include:
There was no greater way to build status in Native communities than to show generosity, especially for those who could not provide for themselves. Good hunters gave food to elders and families in need. Those who excelled at craftwork might exchange their bounty with the bounty of others.
In some Native societies, such as those in the Northwest who practiced the Potlatch, or potluck, the amount that one could give away was a mark of wealth.* The tradition of the “giveaway” continues today, wherever traditional ceremonies are held, when every individual who attends, regardless of social status, is given something.
[*See potlatch among Northwest tribes and “giveaway” ceremonies among Mississippian culture. In his book, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, (W.W. Norton, 2000; reprint, originally published, 1954), French ethnologist Marcel Mauss explores the custom from ancient Roman times through Native American societies.]
Traditionally, giveaway is also practiced when one is wronged. You give the person who slighted you a gift so that you do not carry that hurt or pain. You give it away. It shows you are not harmed; it keeps you in balance and allows you to forget the slight. Why live with someone else’s rudeness?
It also allows the other person to “wake up” and see that there is no wrong intended, allowing an opportunity for reconciliation. The goal is to bring yourself and all around you into balance, and to heal whatever is wrong. If the rift continues, it doesn’t belong to you—allowing you to walk away, without anger—a step beyond turning the other cheek.
Native people recognized that human beings only walked the earth for a limited time; all things, material and immaterial, were sacred. The Creator was bigger than human beings could comprehend and, hence, was sometimes called “The Great Mystery.”
When a human being was balanced, he or she was poised between Heaven and Earth, a child of the Creator, co-creating. Walking in balance was to appreciate miracles all around, all the time: above and below, before and behind, inside. To appreciate this sacred harmony was to Walk in Beauty. At heart, someone who is a human being is someone who is spiritually connected. All else radiates from this.
In Native society, all beings were considered “relations.” When one killed to eat, for example, a prayer was said over the animal that was killed to thank it for its sacrifice.
This was also done when choosing plants to eat. When picking berries or leaves for food, one didn’t strip the plant of all its leaves or fruit; some was left so that it could survive and thrive and continue to provide food for other beings and for human beings in the future.
THRIFT AND RESOURCEFULNESS
Native people didn’t hoard physical items or gather unnecessary goods (“wealth”). Only items that were to be used were kept; other items were given away to those who needed them.
The term “Indian giver,” where one takes back what was given, has an element of truth. In Native societies, if someone wasn’t using something, it often was taken back and given to someone who could use it—without anger or blame. It was just a facet of tribal life where property is shared for the common good.
EXERCISING HUMAN GOODNESS: Love, spirit, joy, mindfulness, honesty, and compassion.
This way of viewing relationships—from self, to Creator, to Earth, to all beings—reminds us that we as human beings are unique. We are children of Earth and Sky: Earth because all of the elements in our bodies come from the Earth Mother; Sky because our spirits are ethereal and eternal and come from the Creator, Heavenly Father, Maker of All Things.
When we see ourselves as beings who are divine in origin (spiritual beings in human bodies) and designated co-creators upon this earth, then we see ourselves as being in our rightful place, as taking a right relationship with our worldly and spiritual obligations. We are human beings, unique upon the earth, and we share this divinity—and obligation—with all human beings.
When we walk in beauty, in right relationship with Heaven and Earth, then the madness and insanity of the dysfunction of society falls away. It becomes a separate thing, something to walk through but not be a part of, and we can see other human beings—those who act with love, spirit, joy, mindfulness, honesty, and compassion—as transcending the sickness that surrounds us all. They have their own reality, their own luminosity, their own characteristics that come through not only in their words and deeds but in their presence that marks them as real human beings.
©2015 by Jim PathFinder Ewing. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com.
Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them
by Jim PathFinder Ewing.
About the Author
Jim PathFinder Ewing is an award-winning journalist, workshop leader, inspirational speaker and author in the fields of mind-body medicine, organic farming and eco-spirituality. He has written about, taught and lectured on Reiki, shamanism, spiritual ecology, integrative medicine and Native American spirituality for decades. He is the author of numerous books on the spiritual aspects of food, sustainability, mindfulness and alternative health, published in English, French, German, Russian and Japanese. For more, see his website: blueskywaters.com
Listen to an interview with Jim about what Redefining Manhood actually entails.