The White House is an image I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It seems we have all been forced into a prolonged meditation on this topic on one level or another. Apparently, it is time.
The White House was built upon ground won through the genocide of indigenous peoples. The White House was quite literally built upon a foundation of slave labor.
The White House reminds us the continued hegemony of “whiteness” in our social order.
The power of the White House rests on an economic system maintained on the backs of the many to serve a chosen few.
The White House, modeled after the plantation house, symbolizes a social order where people and plants are raised to stay in line and are cultivated to run in neat and tidy rows.
The White House, the big house, symbolizes the enslavement of the worker class, a system in which survival depends upon spending our waking hours in the service of cash crops grown at the behest of overseer corporations.
In our culture of glorified busyness, in our race to climb to the tops of the ladders provided us, in our corrosive belief that there’s nothing more to life anyway, our souls languish and our days slip away.
We believe ourselves to be free, we who are white, we who are educated, we who benefit from the system overseen by the master’s house. But being able to stay up all night long, eat ice cream for dinner, and choosing what to watch out of 328 channels on TV from our La-Z-Boy recliners is not living, is not satisfying, and is decidedly not about choice.
What we’re living as a nation—we who possess a standard of living envied by the rest of the world—is not freedom. Not by a long shot.
In a group journey circle a couple of weeks ago, I had an experience that unsettled me.
The old woman who served as the spirit guide for our group, Hazel, gave words of counsel to each person in the circle. After speaking to everyone else in the vision, her eyes met mine. With a forcefulness that I have never felt before in a journey, her words rocked me backwards:
“Yes YOU! Keep burning the house down!”
She looked pleased.
To provide some context, just prior to our group journey, we were discussing the ways folks teach others how to go on shamanic journeys, be it through classes, videos, or books. In my practice, people have been asking if I provide guided meditations for beginning journeying, teach introductory classes on shamanism, incorporate the use of the four directions or specific rituals in my work, and so on.
As we in the circle talked about how best to help others develop on the shamanic path, I felt an unease growing in me.
For some time now, I have known that I am to “teach” a shamanic approach to spirituality, but not with any of the approaches that I have seen out there in the world. Of course this is a good thing; it is smart positioning to strike out in a direction that doesn’t duplicate or repackage the efforts of others. But there was another reason, one I didn’t have words for yet.
My path has been one first of learning, studying, and practicing, then one of undoing, unlearning, and unschooling. This isn’t just my pattern, this is the growth curve of individuals—and of whole civilizations.
After completing the long climb to the mountain top, after landing on the moon, the remaining challenge is one of return, of descent, of coming “home.” The fall to the ground, the return to our senses, the trip back home—to soil, soul, and earth—completes the circle, closes the loop, and grounds the circuit. We leave home for the heights not in order to stay there, but in order to return home and know it again for the first time.
This is where we stand as individuals and as a society. This is why the breaking down. This is why the pressure, the free fall, the darkness, the confusion, the pain. We are being called home, to an adventure that no longer entails conquering the outer realms, but instead exploring and harnessing the promise of our inner worlds.
For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. — Audre Lorde
The first half of the life journey, the quest to climb to the mountain top, is a “solar path,” if you will. There is much to be mastered, memorized, and studied. It is hard work, but it is a common work. As a collective, we are focused on climbing up the mountain, on getting a man to the moon, on building the highest skyscraper, on teaching more people to read, and so on.
Spirituality, too, is a shared enterprise for individuals and societies “on the rise”: you go to church or temple or mosque, you meditate on the Holy Scriptures, you try and act right, and you might even try to get laws passed to make sure others act right, too.
The point is that the solar path upward and onward is one of tradition: brightly-lit, well-traveled, and embraced by the many. External appearance matters a great deal in the social and spiritual effort to ascend: being polite, getting good grades, never falling on the wrong side of the law, never living on the wrong side of the tracks, conforming to prescribed standards of “success.”
Even in shamanism, in this decidedly post-indigenous society, there are ways of doing things. There is a map of the three worlds, there are prescribed ways of getting there, there are healing techniques of extraction and soul retrieval, there are places and dangers to avoid, and so on.
On its face, the solar approach is a helpful way of orienting people to the spirit world. But what’s troubling is how uncritically the symbolic universe of our world is imposed upon the unseen world.
It is hard to “bring down the master’s house” when Divine Presence is imaged exclusively as “light” in the uppermost realms. In the sterile uniformity of our symbolic universe, in our reflexive emphasis on the superiority of the heights and the goodness of light, it can be deduced that we have created God in the image of our world, not the other way around.
The promise of shamanism lies in how surprising, how iconoclastic, how unexpected the messages and images are from the spirit world. Joseph Campbell once said, “If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.” Shamanism can help us accomplish that.
Misreading the terrain ahead, still believing ourselves to be on the path of ascent to the top of the mountain, we keep to the light, we stay close to what we know, and we cling to the ways of this world, even when seeking to learn the ways of the spirit world.
Barn’s burnt down — now I can see the moon. – Mizuta Masahide, 17th century Japanese poet
As sunlight is only half of nature’s daily gift to the planet, so too lives lived only in the light are lives half-lived. The times we are living in are dark—and full of promise.
This moment is very much in keeping with our collective yearning and prayer for greater freedom and joy. The time is ripe. Now is our chance to make a break for it and steal away home.
This is where the practice of lunar shamanism and the untamed wisdom of the spirit world comes in. We need folks who are ready to tear up their maps, jump into the unknown, and learn whatever they can outside of the narrow vision of “reality” that we have inherited.
As shamanic practitioners on the lunar path, my task and yours is to burn down the house that imprisons and blinds and binds us. The lunar path is almost universally misunderstood and feared, a pathway long reviled and demonized. There is much unlearning to do.
What you look for determines what you see. This holds true in physics and metaphysics alike. Strive to make your explorations in the inner world as free as possible from all teachings, no matter how revered or ancient the source. Strive to be a true scientist in the underworld of Spirit. Run experiments, observe, stay teachable, and remain open to the radical grace of surprise.
In other words, refrain from domesticating your shamanic visions by making them conform to some damn teaching or mental map of the terrain. The legacy of enlightenment reason, when honestly and robustly applied to the Unseen, can help us to undo the shackles of superstition and fear with regard to the lunar path, as well as give us a fighting chance to meet the challenges of these times with the received wisdom of the Now.
Indigenous means “sprung from the earth.” The scientific method is part of the ground upon which you and I stand. Claim this ground, your birthright, and use your mind to explore and learn from the overlooked, forgotten, subconscious world of Spirit.
That you do not belong to a native, tribal people is not a problem. This is a gift in its own right. Be true to your ground, practice your indigenous spiritual tradition of no-tradition, and enlist your postmodern awareness in exploring the Unseen realms of spirit.
As peasants and slaves once met at night after a long day’s work to sing, dance, and connect to spirit, so too our work will be hidden, done with the available scraps of time, an underground effort to steal away home even as we go on with the business of daily life in the world.
Liberation is a step-by-step process. There are no quick fixes or gimmicks. The way home can be hard to find after years of overgrowth and neglect, but no matter. The sooner one sets off, the sooner one arrives.
It helps to have a guide to point out signposts along the way, lest you grow discouraged and turn back. It helps to have others accompany you on the path until you begin to blaze your own. And because our destination is shaped by the journey, it is vital to have fun on the way.