Reclaiming our Indigenous Wisdom

Reclaiming our Indigenous Wisdom

I think I am unusual. I can find a confidence inside that allows me to take risks. This confidence allows me to initiate things that I feel passionate about and because I see their worth in the world. I can do this even if I think I don’t know what I’m doing.

The backstory ~ back in the depths of winter I was walking on the land of the South Downs in Sussex. I was in the middle of holding a Medicine Walk and I had a chance to go out for all of 20 minutes. I had my own medicine walk. I was standing amongst some hawthorns and looking out across the rolling downland and a voice from who-knows-where said, “Stoking the ancestral fires.”

That was it. The feeling was powerful. Like something ancient to my bones had landed in me. I had had the feeling before but it had become distant. This time it stayed.

I had no idea what I was meant to do with those words and their meaning but I sat with them and let them dream me.

It didn’t take long to realise that at least part of what I was to do with them was to initiate grief tending ceremonies in our local community and that this offering would be a step towards a bigger collective initiative that would hold a sense of ‘the village’ – that which our very ancestors lived, breathed, laughed, cried, birthed and died within. It is the village that has been lost and it is the feeling of belonging that goes with the village that many of us are now grieving. We don’t know where our tribe is. We don’t have a central fire to gather around and call ‘hearth’ (notice that the words heart and earth are both in this word). We wander, lost like orphans, going from place to place never quite feeling like it’s the ‘right’ place. We are longing for ensoulment of the land and of self. And somewhere, far back before industrialisation, our ancestors had this.

So, my manifesto, if you like, that was given to me that grey February day, is one of finding a way back to a future that provides the possibility for ensoulment and for re~claiming our sense of belonging to this land and the people that inhabit it. For this to happen we need to gather together. We need to be in ceremony as well as simply be around a fire together, making and shaping things with our hands, using them like the ones in the old stories. We need to tell stories to each other, sing songs, cook local and foraged food and eat together.

First though, as I mentioned before, there is a need to tend the grief – and that needs to include the grief of those ancestors who had their land taken from them or who experienced loss of many kinds.

How do we do that? How do I hold that for others? I have not had training. I have not had elders to show me the way, nothing has been handed down to me. So I feel my way in the dark. I learn to trust. I have to trust my deep knowing. I have to trust my intuition, my sense of ceremony and what is needed in the moment.

This feels hard at times and yet it feels like exactly the right thing to do. I believe as part of our healing as a culture, it is necessary to go through the discomfort of feeling our way in the dark for a while. The songs of our language and this land are waiting to be sung. I feel like I owe it to the land and those who have gone before.

All the time we take the songs of other cultures we are not really embracing, or indeed reclaiming, our true inheritance. I imagine that our ancestors had to intuit and make it up as they went along for some of the time – they didn’t always have something handed to them in a neat package. I believe in listening and responding to the field and that requires something less prescriptive than is often offered through trainings and certain traditions. One of my teachers of cultural healing and grief work, Francis Weller, speaks to this beautifully in his courageous book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow. He writes,

‘While we have much to learn from indigenous cultures about forms of rituals and how ritual works, we cannot simply adopt their rituals and settle them neatly onto our psyches. It is important that we listen deeply, once again, to the dreaming earth and craft rituals that are indigenous to us, that reflect our unique patterns of wounding and disconnection from the land.’

Now, I am willing to suggest that I have a tendency to be a rebellious teenager who doesn’t want to be told what to do, yet, the stronger inclination is towards supporting a strident, empowered village who listens to the land and it’s people and responds through ceremony or otherwise and that this could be described as reclaiming our indigenous wisdom. In my opinion, this is much more powerful and empowering than taking on the wisdom of other cultures.

Our recent Community Grief Tending ceremony on Dartmoor felt like proof that this way of trusting can work. It feels as if it’s happening; we are intuiting our way back to something that makes sense, that is steeped in our connection to the land and holds the potential for healing just by its very existence.

I will continue to walk the path of re~membering and of stoking the ancestral fires and, when you feel ready, I will walk with you on that path.