The Medicine Wheel


Yesterday was my grand-niece Jillian’s first birthday. Six weeks after she was born, Mom got a visit from the whole tribe: my brother Darryl and his wife Janet; my niece Jenny and her husband Mike (I performed their marriage ceremony); my other niece, Tracy; and my other brother, Dale, and his wife Nilda. All so Mom could meet little Jillian. Jillie, as everyone calls her.

Mom was already starting to fade by this time last year. Dale and Nilda had tried to visit every other week, but sometimes Mom didn’t feel up to letting them come, and when they did visit, often she felt she needed to “tune out.” I think family visits just overwhelmed her.

The day everyone brought Jillie to see her great-grandma, Mom wasn’t feeling at all well, but she wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by. I think she had willed herself to hold on until after she met this precious gift of a child. Everyone crowded into Mom’s bedroom, and we all oohed and cooed and made baby noises, and then Mom got to hold her: Continue reading

Categories: Death, Family, First Nations, The Medicine Wheel | 5 Comments

Finding Directions

I have always been fascinated by maps. Not handsome, historical maps, but ones I might actually use. These days I spend an absurd amount of time on Google Maps or finding myself frustrated by various trip routing software. I’ve just bought a cheapo GPS for my car.

Part of it is that I get lost rather easily. For a while, when Indigo Bunting lived in Maryland and her husband lived in Vermont (both because of job demands), she was flying up to see him periodically and I would pick her up from the airport, one I have been to dozens and dozens of times. And every single time, on the trip back home, I would take a wrong turn somewhere and get us lost. Twice, maybe three times, I have picked up a friend at Orlando International and have gone west toward Tampa instead of east toward home. I think I make the mistake of thinking I can talk and drive at the same time, when I can barely manage to do even one of them adequately.

The deeper pull of maps seems to be tied to two things: a sense of being lost in the world, and needing some kind of spiritual cartography program that will help me navigate life a little better; and the notion that the inner landscape of the soul can be described, at least symbolically, in an image that is found in the iconography of countless cultures.

The indigenous peoples of this continent (though I prefer the Canadian term, “First Nations”) call this image the Medicine Wheel.

Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel | 5 Comments

Surfer Dude Stuns Physicists with Theory of Everything

An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists.

by Roger Highfield, Science Editor
The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Garrett Lisi, 39, has a doctorate but no university affiliation and spends most of the year surfing in Hawaii, where he has also been a hiking guide and bridge builder (when he slept in a jungle yurt).

In winter, he heads to the mountains near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he snowboards. “Being poor sucks,” Lisi says. “It’s hard to figure out the secrets of the universe when you’re trying to figure out where you and your girlfriend are going to sleep next month.”

The E8 pattern (click to enlarge), Garrett Lisi surfing (middle), and out of the water (right)

Despite this unusual career path, his proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics. Continue reading

Categories: Nature, The Medicine Wheel, Time and Space | 9 Comments

The Jicara

My friend Kate lived for several years in Yuma, Arizona, and worked as an environmental lawyer on an Army base. She and her fiancé Ken made numerous trips down the Mexican coast visiting the tiny towns along the Gulf of California. One particular family befriended them, and welcomed them into their home repeatedly.

The years have been difficult. Ken died in a horrific accident, leaving Kate in great mourning. Then the Mexican family’s matriarch died, leaving behind a sad but kindly husband and two young kids. huichol_yarn_painting_by_rojelio_beuites.jpgBut though Kate moved back to the D.C. area, she makes regular visits to the family in Mexico, and always brings interesting gifts for the kids (who are growing like weeds; it makes Kate feel very old).

Every year she sends me some memento from Mexico, most of them pieces of Huichol art. She has given me two blankets woven in the most amazing colors, a decidedly hallucinogenic wooden dog, and two intriguing crucifixes (blending several different religious traditions).

Perhaps the most recognizable type of Huichol art is the nieli’ka, or yarn painting (like the one depicted here). In traditional Huichol communities, nieli’kas are important ritual artifacts. They’re usually small square or round tablets covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli’kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs, and caves. Continue reading

Categories: Art, Dreams, Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel | 10 Comments

Where the Leylines Led

Ever since Alfred Watkins announced his discovery of a network of ancient alignments criss-crossing the British countryside, the history of leys has been less of an old straight track and more of a long and winding road, one that has taken detours into everything from ufology to dowsing. Veteran ley hunter Paul Devereux sets out to map this remarkable journey and to see where it has taken us today.

by Paul Devereux, for The Fortean Times

June 2007

Following Alfred Watkins’s famous vision of straight paths crossing the landscape, the concept of “leys” has evolved over several decades, but it has become increasingly obvious to research-minded ley students that there never were such features as “leys,” let alone “leylines.” At best, these were convenient labels to cover a multitude of both actual and imaginary alignments from many different eras and cultures. This was because most enthusiasts were projecting their own ideas onto the past in various ways. But the handful of research-minded ley hunters cared about actual archæology, and they followed where the mythical leys led—a journey in which they have made some unexpected findings, proving William Blake’s dictum that if the fool persists in his folly he will eventually become wise. These vary from discovering that culturally contrived altered mind-states in past societies caused markings to be left on the land to unravelling the meaning of a passage in a Shakespeare play that has revealed the vestiges of a spiritual geography in Old Europe.

Because the realisation that New World features like the Nazca lines of Peru and other pre-Columbian land markings throughout the Americas seem to be associated with entranced mind states (typically triggered by the ritual use of plant or fungal hallucinogens) has been sufficiently aired previously, we need spend little space on them here—save to note that in the late 1980s, when the present writer introduced the term “shamanic landscapes” to describe such ground markings, few people were aware of the scale of mind-altering drug usage in ancient America and so tended to dismiss the idea at the time as being over-fanciful. Subsequently, though, the role of altered mind-states in explaining certain imagery in prehistoric rock art has become more widely accepted. The land markings share a similar source to these rock art images, so features like the Nazca lines are not to be misunderstood as landing strips for extraterrestrial spacecraft but as the markings of a culture encountering inner space. The human spirit has left its signature on the planet in some surprising ways.

Less well known by academics and folklorists, let alone anyone else, is the fact that the leys led researchers to revelations regarding largely ignored features in the Old World. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel, Time and Space | Leave a comment

The Big Trip: Jesus is Lord on the Crow Reservation


The woman who ran the campground was a coal miner. She and her husband both were. There are a lot of coal miners around Gillette. Low-sulfur, I think, is what she called the mines, since “those don’t need special scrubbers.” Because of the Clean Air Act, all coal-producing plants and most of the electrical power plants in the area that are powered by coal must use these special scrubbers, but if your coal has low enough sulfur levels, you don’t need the scrubbers. Oil is very big here, too, nearly as big as in Texas, she told me. “Though here, the egos aren’t quite as large.”

Politically they’re very conservative but somewhat cynical, as it is widely understood that you can get whatever you want politically by buying it, and many politicians won’t do anything for you without a campaign contribution. A city council member (and campaign worker for a mayoral candidate) in Gillette out-and-out told her that if she wanted something changed she should make a contribution to the candidate’s campaign—the council member said she was sure he’d be elected because she had gotten a vast number of senior citizens registered and would personally be driving them to the polls on election day.

Gillette, Buffalo, Sheridan: wonderful, wide-open Wyoming vistas, with lots of cowboys, and oil rigs, and coal mines, and hunters. The hunters, actually, have descended upon the area just this weekend, packing into the hotels and motels and campgrounds for the opening of antelope season. Motel signs are offering them special discounts; the 7-Eleven is giving them a free bag of ice with purchase. (The hunters, not the antelopes.)

I plan to go west on I-90, which swings north into Montana and continues west through Billings and on to Bozeman and Helena. To my left are little mounds that rise unexpectedly from this very gently rolling place: small, sudden, peaky hills—small breasts with nipples everywhere you look: nipple, nipple, nipple, nipple, nipple. Which of course reminds me that Grand Tetons (the mountain range south of Yellowstone here in Wyoming) is French for “Big Tits.” Really. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Big Trip, The Medicine Wheel | 4 Comments

The Big Trip: Pipestone


The Butterfield Café had a terrific breakfast special: 2 eggs, 2 cakes, 2 sausage, 2 bacon, $2.75. The bacon was extraordinary. The waitress wore jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. There were signs for Mountain Dew on several of the walls, reflecting their overuse on the sides of the buildings in this little town, and everyone said, “You bet!”

All the folks in the café were regulars. They helped themselves to coffee, sat in the same seats each day, and the cook would come out and sit with them when he wasn’t busy. I learned that Butterfield’s main industry was its chicken processing plant. These guys slaughtered chickens for a living, killing some 60,000 of them a day, most of them destined for pot pies and such (not Perdue quality chicken, which I learned are mainly processed in Washington state).

Butterfield’s other claim to fame was its annual “Camping Bee” with its “Hiawatha Days,” about which I unfortunately could learn nothing, though there were these ancient steam tractors on permanent display at their fairgrounds. A kid in town said that Butterfield had a population of 900; the visitors I met the previous night while camping said it was around 600. Either way, welcome to small town America.

A murder of crows (I love terms of venery, those collective nouns for groups of animals: a shrewdness of apes, an exaltation of larks, a storytelling of ravens) were congregating over my campground, which I passed on my way out of town. Felt slightly ominous. Continue reading

Categories: Shamanism, The Big Trip, The Medicine Wheel, Travel | 8 Comments

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