Monday, October 2, 2017

What Are Your Names?

I am participating in the research project of a Heathen acquaintance, and while working on a questionnaire that in part discussed "labels," I was inspired to create my own version of stanzas 46-54 of the Grimnismal (a poem in the Poetic Edda where Odin lists his many names).
What would you say about yourself? What are your names? How have people known you? This is just a draft of my own, but it was quite thought-provoking to consider:

I have been called Peace-Maker, and Ungrateful, 
Kind-Heart, Leader, 
Gentle One, and Tall-Girl.
I have been called Diviner, and Image-Maker,
Furious, and Schemer.
I have called myself Scholar and Loner,
Herb-Harvester, and Shy.
Joyful-Spirit, Heart-Breaker, 
Weak-One, and Strong-One,
Dancer and Fearful and Brave.
They called me Strange-One in Bergvik’s hall, 
But Quiet at Titus’s place.
I was called Odd-Duck, and Mystery
Observer, and Terrible,
Rude, and Filthy, and Fearsome.
Olivia is my name, but before that I was 
Battle-Avoider and Laughter-Wise.
I think all these names were used for me alone.

I may add to this over time, but it was a great exercise. If you decide to write your own, please feel free to share it with me!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ghost Dance: Thoughts About the Sacred Vision Oracle

Today is the first day of October, and hence the first day of the multitude of shadow work challenges on Instagram (I'll be participating in two - I love me some shadow work!). So it feels appropriate to post about something I've been mulling over - and to an extent avoiding - over the past week: my struggle with certain aspects of the newly released Sacred Vision Oracle cards. (To be honest, I didn't even want to talk about this - ever. But my sister urged me to, and I decided to listen.)

I was browsing online a couple of weeks back when I happened across this deck. Whenever I see indigenous-related work the first inclination I have is to verify that the artist is of that same cultural background, and so I was pleased to learn that the images in Sacred Visions were painted by Robert Taylor, an Oklahoma artist with ancestral roots in four indigenous nations. Lynn Andrews created the concept for the deck, and I'm superficially aware that she has written several books on shamanism (I can't speak to her abilities or legitimacy, so I won't). As I understand it, the images for these oracle cards were derived from pre-existing artwork as opposed to having been created specifically for it, and I think that's important: when artwork is matched to a concept after its creation there are often at least some wrinkles in the final product (it's possible that I'm wrong about the way in which the deck was conceived, though if so, I am even more confused by what feels to me like forced congruities).

I want to say that I love the quality and intensity of Robert Taylor's paintings. As often happens with important artwork, the images and symbolism can be provocative and moving. That is good. However I am not always comfortable with the way in which certain "oracular messages" are juxtaposed with some of the more sobering and loaded images, and I'll use just one as an example. I drew this card one morning several days ago and it stopped me completely in my tracks insofar as open work with the deck is concerned (I still haven't resumed regular card draws with it):
In this painting, an indigenous man floats above the earth with hands upraised, showing the Christian symbol of stigmata on his palms. This carries so much historical weight. Robert Taylor himself suggests that this figure is meant to represent a Ghost dancer. Ghost dancing was a movement among many indigenous communities in the 19th Century, said to have been sparked by a vision received by the Paiute holy man, Wovoka, who dreamed that Jesus was reborn as an indigenous man with the purpose of protecting indigenous communities. The dance was meant to call back the spirits of the dead to help put an end to the ravages of Euro-American colonialism and to establish peace in the land. Black Elk, the famous Lakota spiritual leader, had received a related vision about the creation of special Ghost dance shirts that would repel bullets. The Wounded Knee massacre is said to in part have been triggered by resistance of a Lakota man, Yellow Bird, to the demand by U.S. soldiers to surrender weapons. He began to Ghost dance, asking others to join him, reminding them that their shirts protected them from the soldiers' bullets. There is so much more to the story of this horrific massacre, and I encourage everyone to learn about what happened there. Needless to say (perhaps) the soldiers' fear ultimately led them to kill more than 150 men, women, and children that had been herded into the Wounded Knee encampment.

I have been to Wounded Knee on several occasions as part of work with the Oglala Lakota nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and it's hard to describe the pain that is still palpable there. I would break down quite unexpectedly each time I visited the cemetery. The subjugation of the First Nations though murder and the spread of communicable diseases is one of the most egregious stains on the history of this country, and the effects are still evident today.

When I see images like this, I feel grief. I see powerful and charged symbolism in the correlation of the destruction and dismantling of indigenous culture, language, and communities to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I am disgusted by it, too. The painting itself is extraordinarily powerful. To elicit these feelings and thoughts in and of itself is a journey through shadow.

But then it is coupled with this description:
I've read this a multitude of times, and I'm still not sure what Lynn Andrews is trying to say. Is she suggesting that the literal interpretation of visions by two important indigenous leaders was an unfortunate mistake that led to more deaths than might have been necessary? Is she saying that colonialism sucks, but it's more important to buck up and move forward? Is she equating the desperation of indigenous peoples to being "unaware of true reality"? Why is the card called "Vision" when some aspects of the card narrative seem to encourage a focus on the mundane? Why is the subtitle "Heaven Is Where You Find It?" What does this last line, "Heaven is before you; your dreams are coming true," have to do with an image of a Ghost dancer (whose visions certainly did not manifest)? The guidebook provides a small reflection on the "spirit of the card" which is easier to get my head around: For what do you hunger? What makes you float in a state of grace? If I divorce the message from the card image, I can grab hold of some interesting food for thought and reflection (an essential purpose of oracle decks). I can't, however, manage it when the card narrative is on the flip side of the card image.

So what do I do with this? If I continue to work with this deck, do I take the card descriptions with a grain of salt (or else not read them at all), and focus mainly - or solely - on symbolism in the images? (To be fair, not all image-description combinations are as jarring as this one). Do I scrap this as an oracle altogether and frame the pictures as a mini art gallery of Robert Taylor's stunning work? I'm undecided. For the time being I may continue tentative work with these cards, though I'm not sure that I will talk much about the experience in any public forum. I'll follow my heart where it leads me in relation to this matter, but I at the very least agree that my sister was right when she suggested that it was worth putting my perspective out into the ether.