Do you have the wisdom necessary for the journey?

April 5, 2015

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the great multicultural pilgrimage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1995 under guidance of traditional native wisdom keepers. The journey was — and is — the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

As the meme below attests, I’m moved this year to continue letting people know about the epic saga I authored back in 2007 to tell the tale. As time passes the story becomes increasingly relevant.

Odyssey of the 8th Fire

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Remembering an Epic Walk for the Earth

June 23, 2014
Walking under the sign of the Whirling Rainbow

Walking under the sign of the Whirling Rainbow

Nineteen years ago today – June 23, 1995 – a small band of pilgrims set out walking from the Atlantic to the Pacific on an epic journey that I have come to regard, and to write about, as the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

The saga of their journey is well worth knowing, for it remains critically relevant to the journey all of us are making now through an era of profound change upon our Earth.

As well as the tale of the pilgrims’ travels on foot across Turtle Island (North America), Odyssey of the 8th Fire is the essential story of their meetings with dozens of traditional, learned elders of North America. They gifted the pilgrims with messages to deliver to all the people.

Reading Odyssey of the 8th Fire online is a demanding quest. The story is exceedingly long. Because of this, and because many of the elders who are part of the story noted that their teachings take both time and attention to understand, I recommend this literary pilgrimage be undertaken step by step, over a span of eight months or so.

Odyssey consists of a lengthy Prologue, and then 225 accounts, one for each day of travel. Those journal entries are ordered chronologically.

By engaging this online account of the epic walk one day at a time, a reader can make a steady eight-month literary and spiritual pilgrimage from East to West across Turtle Island (North America). The journey proceeds place to place, elder to elder, teaching to teaching.

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“I ask you to listen not just with your minds. I ask you to listen with your hearts, because that is the only way you can receive what it is — what we are giving. These are the teachings of our hearts.

“This walk is going to take eight or nine months. There are lots of elders out there across Turtle Island, and they have many beautiful teachings, many teachings that all the people need now. It is our hope, it is our prayer that they will come forward now that the Eastern Door is open

“It is our prayer that they will meet us as we walk; that they will teach and share what they understand from their hearts. Be patient. Listen to the elders. You need patience to receive these teachings. It doesn’t all come at once. You need patience.”

– Frank Decontie, Algonquin
 – June 23, 1995
 – First Encounter Beach, Massachusetts


Big Doings at Big Mountain

May 29, 2013
Big Mountain montage by Jetsonorama and the "No Reservations Required" crew.

Big Mountain montage by Jetsonorama & No Reservations Required crew.

For most Americans the Four Corners is just a curiosity on the map where the survey lines that define four states come together and form a classic cross: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. But for many native peoples, Four Corners is a broad and austerely beautiful region bounded by four sacred mountains.* navmap Four Corners is appreciated as an exquisitely sensitive and foundationally important feminine holy place on the land, a place that serves as an earthly anchoring point for the spiritual heart of North America (Turtle Island).

Today, as has been true for over 50 years, Four Corners is under assault. Today also, as has been true for millennia, Four Corners is under the watch of human beings who have accepted their role as protectors of the land and the life that depends upon the land.

Within the Mountain boundaries of the Four Corners lies the sweeping, majestic prominence of Black Mesa in northeast Arizona. Upon the mesa, in simplicity and humility, stands Big Mountain, a geomantic ground zero. As held in traditional knowings, Four Corners in general and Black Mesa and Big Mountain in particular are understood to represent what we might conceive of as a microcosmic holograph of our entire planet — a subtle, supersensible phenomenon of the region possibly grasped only through legend, direct perception, or quantum mechanics.

What happens in the Four Corners does not stay in the Four Corners, but through the web of life and relationship resonates consequences across and within all of the Earth Mother.

coal_plant_on_mesaOver the last decades of our era, traditional native peoples at Black Mesa have lived in resistance. Strip-mines have ripped apart the sacred lands, coal-burning power plants have befouled the desert air to send electricity to the Las Vegas Strip, and elsewhere, and mining corporations have dug up the toxic ‘cledge’ (uranium). According to various Creation stories, native peoples were explicitly warned to leave the cledge unmolested; digging yellowcake up, the traditions related, would cause it to arise in the world as nayee, a monster.

In resistance of this ongoing exploitation, there will be a gathering on Black Mesa the week of June 3-9, 2013. The gathering will include workshops and conversations among the Big Mountain/Black Mesa community and other frontline resistance communities from around North America. They will participate in a native youth caucus, cultural sharing, work parties, an elders’ circle, community meals, and concerts with hip hop artists.

This June gathering is being organized by Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS), an all-volunteer, non-native collective committed to long-term, relationship-based, request-based solidarity with the native communities of Black Mesa.

This is not the first such gathering in support of Black Mesa/Big Mountain and surely will not be the last. Thousands of people have learned of Big Mountain over the last 40 years, and hundreds of gatherings have been held in support. This particular gathering is a “big doing” not so much in the sense of size, but rather in the overall context of extreme planetary imbalance or earth changes, and overall patterns of spiritual awakening.

Sovereignty Summer

The Black Mesa gathering in early June happens toward the beginnings of  Sovereignty Summer, and thus can be appreciated as a node in a network of awakenings now underway onward through 2013. What is “big” in the ultimate realm of possibilities, is the potential for good that may come from Big Mountain, from Ottawa, and from hundreds of other gatherings and non-violent actions across Turtle Island (North America).

nativeart041What unfolds on Black Mesa is part of a social movement, a people-powered uprising for a healthy planet liberated from fossil fuel extraction, exploitative economies, racism, and oppression.

The BMIS collective sets out their ideal by echoing a statement from Honor the Earth: “We believe a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economic, social, and political relationships that have been based on systems of conquest toward systems based on just relationships with each other and with the natural world. We are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the Earth.”

General Geomantics

Occupying a spiritual axis for North America, Black Mesa is home to one of the world’s largest and richest coal mines. A site long considered sacred by traditional Hopi and Dine’ (Navajo), the mesa is also home to profitable deposits of gas, petroleum, and uranium.

As understood for millennia, Black Mesa and Big Mountain are inherently, energetically feminine. Yang, masculine digging and drilling for monetary profit and environmental ruin constitute a direct assault on this yin feminine holy center of the land we live on, North America.

In that sense Black Mesa/Big Mountain represent a microcosmic mirror of the deranged yang-masculine dominance, and the ongoing determined debasement of feminine, life-sustaining peoples, persons, substances and ways — as is evidenced all over the planet.

The native elders and the traditional families of Black Mesa appreciate coal as a substance that serves as the liver of the Sacred Female Mountain. When coal is taken from the ground, it no longer can absorb and neutralize impurities in the air and water, the arising thoughts and feelings that circulate in the atmosphere of our planet home.

Even in the face of genocide and ongoing persecution, native peoples have faithfully perpetuated ceremonies intended to give back appreciation and the primal energies of thought, feeling, song and dance to help maintain the balance of natural forces of sunlight, rain and winds, and further to reaffirm respect for all life and trust in the Great Spirit. This is how they express it. This is what they do. This is the nature of the call they are sounding, the support they seek.

Igniting a Spiritual Fire

Sovereignty Summer is a term that originated in Canada, arising through the indigenous movement Idle No More.  The movement demands sustainable development as well restoration of integrity to sworn treaties. “We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities,” the movement reasons, “and (we) have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.”

idleIdle No More has ignited a spiritual fire in the hearts of thousands of human beings to address a range of core matters, including the fundamental issue of protecting the earth that sustains us so life may endure and we may all go forward. They intend to keep striking sparks.

The human beings who sparked Idle No More have networked with Defenders of the Land to make a declaration: “We are in a critical time,” they write, “where lives, lands, waters and Creation are at-risk and they must be protected.” They call the attention of people to the potential of Sovereignty Summer. Meanwhile, in Alberta earlier this month, many native peoples gathered to create and then to sign a historic document, the Turtle Lodge Treaty. Of this treaty we are likely to hear more in the years to come.

Big Medicine is afoot. There is a spiritual energy stirring and a larger awakening is on the horizon as we transition to Sovereignty Summer. The gathering at Big Mountain is one facet or node of this ongoing awakening.

The gathering space at Black Mesa is already full this year. Organizers cannot accommodate anyone else coming. But there are other ways to support the effort to maintain Big Mountain, Black Mesa and the Four Corners, and to support the whole of the earth in a sacred manner. That is the idea animating Sovereignty Summer: to come together not in one particular place, but to establish a spiritually respectful stance where you are called upon the land.

* The four sacred mountains: Mount Blanca in Colorado, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Mount Hesperus in Utah.

rsz_blan


Valiant Pilgrim Paths Will Cross in Memphis

April 10, 2013

This month a small band of women from the Ojibwe native nation is walking the land in prayer from the source of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca in the North, more than 1,200 miles in a south direction along the shore to the point where the great river spills into the sea at the Gulf of Mexico.

Pilgrim paths form a cross

Pilgrim paths form a cross

The Mississippi River Water Walkers sang the Water Song when they began their walk on March 1, 2013. By now they are many hundreds of miles further south, still in ceremony, still walking on to fulfill their vision.

When the women walkers reach Memphis, Tennessee in a week or so, their north-to-south trail will intersect with the east-to-west trail of the Sunbow Prayer Walk, which was guided 2,500 miles across the land 20 years ago by Grandfather William Commanda, now in spirit.

The trails of these two pilgrim bands will intersect in space and across time, forming a Four Directions wheel anchored in prayer and ceremony on the land at the Memphis shore of the Mississippi.

The eight-month long, male-driven Sunbow Walk from the Atlantic to the Pacific crossed the Mississippi River from Tennessee to Arkansas on the ninety-eighth day of the journey (Sept. 28, 1995). They traveled then under the teachings of the Seventh Fire and the skysign of the Whirling Rainbow

The women who are the Mississippi River Walkers, now on foot in real time 2013, are approaching intersection with the Sunbow trail in Memphis.

You can friend the Mississippi River Walkers and support them on their Facebook page, a page which is growing as the walkers make their way to the south, stopping at key points along the way to offer ceremonial blessings.

“We want the walk to be a prayer,” says Sharon Day, walk organizer, on their Facebook page. “Every step we take we will be praying for and thinking of the water. The water has given us life and now, we will support the water.”


Mayan 2012 Kinship with the Land ~ Our Earth Mother is the Responsibility of All

December 13, 2012
Tzoodzil - Mt. Taylor, NM.

Tzoodzil – Mt. Taylor, New Mexico, USA.

In the early 1990s I met Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez of Guatemala. Then over the decades I had the fortune to travel with him in the Yucatan, in New England, and on the south flank of Tzoodzil, the sacred South Mountain of North America’s steadfast Four Corners.

In those times and places I had a chance to talk with Don Alejandro about the land, the earth, and some of the Mayan teachings concerning Winter Solstice, 2012.

A Daykeeper of the famous Mayan Calendar, the founder of several orphanages, and the leader of the National Council of Elders Mayas, Xinca and Garifuna of Guatemala, Don Alejandro is a 13th generation Quiche Maya elder. In our conversations he revealed a generous measure of insight concerning the way things are with the land and the people.

My interviews with Don Alejandro eventually got wrapped in as part of a concise 40-page eBook I published three years ago: Tales of the Whirling Rainbow: Authentic Myths & Mysteries for 2012. Now, as the 2012 turning point on the Mayan Calendar arrives, it’s time to re-articulate some key parts of that message.

Don Alejandro

Don Alejandro

As with all traditional native elders north, south, east or west, Don Alejandro regards the earth as mother. Among the oldest traditions of the Americas, it is understood that men and women of honor treat their earth mother – Tierra Madre – with respect and consideration. That kind of respectful perception and relation with the land and the earth arises primarily out of contemplation.

Don Alejandro spoke then and speaks now, of a prophesied evolutionary transition to a New Sun (Era) — the Shift of the Ages described in the Mayan calendars with the date of December 21, 2012 given as a focal point.

Don Alejandro said that indigenous cultures around the world hold in their oral traditions an understanding that civilizations have risen on earth many times in the past, and then fallen. These civilizations fell apart, he said, primarily because they developed and employed technology without wisdom or respect for nature. Then the natural world became profoundly unbalanced.

“Once again,” Don Alejandro told me, “we are in a period of time when technology dominates life and is generally being applied without wisdom.

“Big changes are coming in this frame of time. All the elders know that. That’s why it’s important to talk now and to remind people to respect Mother Earth, and to stop destroying the water, air, land, and mountains.

“Arise. Awaken,” he said. “This is the dawn of a new time. The life of the Planet Earth is the responsibility of all.”

Among other things, Winter Solstice 2012 marks a widening awareness of this basic understanding about the land, Don Alejandro reckoned, and also a deepening appreciation of its importance.


The Whirling Rainbow Year of 2012

January 1, 2012

For an understanding of how traditional Daykeepers and native elders of North America regard our land as we move toward the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, check out my ebook Tales of the Whirling Rainbow: Authentic Myths & Mysteries for 2012. It is a swift, powerful and penetrating look at our current era from the vantage of the wisdom traditions that have been anchored on this land for 20,000 years or more. It explores how those teachings may bear upon the present, agrarian and otherwise. You can read the ebook on any Smartphone, iPad, Nook, Kindle, computer, or whatever — 10 different eformats.

Further along the trail I was interviewed not too long ago  by Lyn Goldberg on her radio show about the 2012 end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012, and the boundless range of traditional understandings associated with our personal and planetary pilgrimage through the years ahead. You can listen to or download the interview.

Review from Amazon.com: “Tales of the Whirling Rainbow is a stunningly powerful little book. It puts the whole 2012 story in a new, more authentic, and vastly richer and more hopeful context. By seeking out the traditional keepers of medicine wisdom for our era, and having traveled the road of adventure with them, Steven McFadden has assembled a matrix of powerfully intersecting tales, all true and all with immediate relevance. I loved this amazing little ebook.”


The Dangerously Deranged Ethics of Biotech Ag

September 3, 2011

My unease about genetically engineered crops and animals dates back to the beginning. I had immediate concerns in the late 1980s and early 90s as I began to learn about the technology and associated marketplace machinations. Over the following decades as more and more facts emerged my concerns deepened.

Then just a couple of weeks ago my misgivings were rudely provoked to the forefront when I read an op-ed column by Nina Federoff, published in The New York Times. Her column amounted to a fact-deficient apologia for the GMO industry, and an exhortation to charge heedlessly forward with genetically engineered food. For me, and for millions of other people, this is a massively deranged and dangerous proposition.

So many factors are coming to a head now. Widespread famine, a global land grab, soaring food prices, a horde of profit-mad speculators, drought on the scale of the Dust Bowl, a host of other wildly wobbling environmental events, and a huge, well-organized, well-funded propaganda push by corporate industrial agriculture to claim that the only sensible way forward is with genetic engineering and its allied cauldron of petrochemical-based herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides. But it’s not the only way forward. It is, instead, a profoundly perilous pathway encouraged by what I regard as dangerously deranged ethics.

After the Times published Federoff’s column, well-reasoned rebuttals came swiftly from Anna Lappe writing for Civil Eats, from Tom Philpott in Grist, and from Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Senior Scientist, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). Individually and collectively, their articles constitute a convincing, fact-backed refutation of Federoff’s claims for GMO safety and suitability. They effectively assert the case for a global 21st century agrarian vision of human-scale organic sustainable farms and food.

Their responses to the Times column deepened my understanding of why it’s fundamentally important to advance clean natural organic practices and products. They also impelled me to consider again my anxiety about the deranged ethics evidenced in the GMO industry: utter disregard of the baseline Precautionary Principle, repeated roughshod override of human free will, and a radically impudent abnegation of the Seventh Generation teaching.

Seventh Generation Teaching

Tipi for the Prayer Vigil for the Earth at the Washington Monument. All people of all traditions are welcome. This year the Vigil is set for September 30 - October 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of The Circle.

In the market-driven rush to bring GMO crops into the fields and thence into the people, I see forces and institutions fundamentally averse to the common sense teaching of the Seventh Generation. That precept — native to North America — holds that leaders are responsible for considering the impact of their decisions on the seventh generation yet to come.

Most memorably, I heard the seven generations teaching expounded by Leon Shenandoah, the late elder and chief in service to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Six Nations).  I shook hands and spoke with Leon in 1995 in a ring of tipis set up for the annual, ecumenical Prayer Vigil for the Earth at the base of the Washington Monument in our U.S. capital city.

“Look behind you,” Grandfather Leon said. “See your sons and your daughters. They are your future. Look farther and see your sons’ and your daughters’ children and their children’s children even unto the Seventh Generation. That’s the way we were taught. Think about it: you yourself are a Seventh Generation.”

Another Six Nations elder, Oren Lyons, has commented, “As a general injunction to live responsibly and respectfully, and as a practical guide to specific moral decision-making, the seventh generation principle may be without equal.”

I agree. I look around and I see that just one generation has passed since the widespread introduction of GMO crops. Already potentially catastrophic problems have begun to arise by the bushel. These are amply documented in the rebuttals to Federoff’s column.

Free Will

A second troubling realm of GMO industry ethics and practices involves the ongoing violation of human free will. From the outset, the industry has insisted and aggressively lobbied to make sure there are never any identifying labels on GMO products.

The American public does not, and never has had, any way to actively choose, or actively avoid GMO food. The real nature of the food is hidden, and consumers have no opportunity whatsoever for informed consent about the nature of the food they feed themselves and their children.

Out of respect for the sacrosanct nature of human free will, we should be able to know the truth of the food that is set before us. But we do not know this in 2011, nor can we. There are no identifying labels to let people know they are eating genetically engineered food. Our free will, thus, is continually disregarded and disrespected.

In response to this abuse, many citizens and organizations are actively advocating the labeling of all genetically engineered foods: to restore for consumers a free-will choice in the marketplace. You can begin to learn about the burgeoning movement for labeling GMO foods at the Non-GMO Project, and at the Truth in Labeling project.

Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle is a simple and sensible ethical guideline. It holds that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those promoting the product or action. In other words, you must establish that your action or product will not cause harm before you promulgate it and actually cause irreversible harm to human beings or to the natural world essential to life.

This common-sense principle is a statutory requirement in the law of the European Union, but not in the USA. The USA has, in fact, lobbied actively and secretly — without citizen knowledge or approval — to pressure European governments to ease or overlook legitimate objections to genetically engineered food.

Mounting Evidence

The evidence continues to mount that GMO technologies and practices are causing profound harm. Respected agricultural researchers are repeatedly raising serious concerns.

In mid-August Robert Kremer, a microbiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, told a Kansas City audience that repeated use of the chemical glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup herbicide, adversely impacts plant roots.

He said also that fifteen years of research indicates that the chemical is causing harmful changes in soil, and potentially reducing yields of the genetically modified crops that dominate vast acreage in North America and elsewhere around the world.

Research shows that genetically engineered crops do not, in fact, yield more than conventional crops, he said. Nutrient deficiencies tied to the root disease problems are likely a limiting factor for crop yield, as is the burgeoning plague of poison-resistant Superweeds unleashed by the overuse of chemical herbicides used on GMO crops. Further and alarmingly, news reports revealed this week that researchers are now finding significant levels of the poison widely infesting both the water and the air of farm states.

Meanwhile, Michael McNeill, an agronomist who owns Ag Advisory Ltd. in Algona, Iowa, has pointed out that scientists are seeing new, alarming patterns in plants and animals due to increased use of glyphosate on GMO crops. “When you spray glyphosate on a plant, ” McNeill has said, “it’s like giving it AIDS.”

McNeill reports that he and his colleagues are seeing a higher incidence of infertility and early-term abortion in cattle and hogs that are fed on GM crops. He adds that poultry fed on the suspect crops have been exhibiting reduced fertility rates.

Ominously, the warnings of these scientists echo what Purdue University professor emeritus Don Huber has been saying: “I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen (nurtured in the context of GMO crops and glyphosate) is unique and of a high-risk status…it should be treated as an emergency.”

Huber said he sees the GMO-glyphosate industrial ag complex as having led to an increase in cancers of the liver, thyroid, kidneys, and skin melanomas, as well as sharp increases in allergic reactions in general,  and an increase on an epidemic-scale in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Ethos and Mythos

Corporations, universities, and governments are racing blithely forward as if the benefits and safety of GMO technology are above question. But for anyone paying attention now, that is clearly not so. A comprehensive 2011 literature review documents the reality that nothing is settled. The GMO debate is still wide open.

The authors of the literature review reported that most studies claiming that GM foods are as nutritional and as safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates. They conclude: “the controversial debate on GMOs…remains completely open at all levels.”  That conclusion should raise ethical red flags for everyone.

The words ethos and ethics derive from the Greek root ethikos, meaning moral, and it’s the root of our modern term for moral competence. While ethics may be individual, ethos is communal and arises out of common experience and insight. It denotes a characteristic spirit—the guiding beliefs and values of a team, a company, a tribe, or a nation.

As we confront radically changing circumstances in our economy, energy supply, and food chain, we have an opportunity to change and reconstitute our ethos and the way we live with the land.  The corporate, university, and government institutions that comprise industrial biotech agriculture have embraced an ethos of speed, efficiency, and profit and as a consequence created an environmental behemoth of threatening mien. Yet we have potential to make a deliberate shift to embrace a conservative but enlightened ethos not just out of necessity, but also out of wisdom. Perhaps mythos will be a factor in bringing about this urgently necessary shift.

Forty years ago a small group of citizens — seeing profound harm being inflicted upon the natural world that supports human life, and impelled by their shared ethos — formed the nucleus of Greenpeace.

While the actions of that seed group were mandated by immediate realities, much of their inspiration came from the realm of mythos — specifically, the legend of the rainbow warriors. The myth tells of how in a time of great peril, people of all colors and faiths — in response to ominous degradation and disturbance of the natural world that supports us all — band together peacefully and give birth to a clean world based on principles of respect. That modern myth is so powerful and offers so much hope that as a journalist I’ve been drawn to write about it repeatedly in several nonfiction books: Legend of the Rainbow Warriors, Odyssey of the 8th Fire, and most recently in Tales of the Whirling Rainbow.

Greenpeace long ago embraced a life-preserving ethos including the Precautionary Principle, respect for human free will, and the teaching of the Seventh Generation. The orrganization has called for a ban on all genetically engineered crop field trials in Australia and elsewhere.

A new report from Greenpeace and GM Freeze analyzes almost 200 independent and peer-reviewed scientific studies. Those studies show that the culture of genetically engineered food and its chemical supplements has serious problems, and is linked with upsurges in rates of cancer, birth defects and neurological illnesses including Parkinson’s. This study also echoes resoundingly the sharp warnings of Don M. Huber.

As The Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article about Greenpeace, an emerging consensus among eco-activists is that environmentalism is now a matter of life and death. It is in this alarming context that new executive director Kumi Naidoo and all of Greenpeace are preparing this month to mark their 40anniversary with the launch of Rainbow Warrior III, a successor to the group’s famous flagship sunk by the French government in 1985.

Perhaps the new ship —  a visible manifestation of the mythos and a powerful action-oriented expression of a wisdom-based ethos — will help spark and encourage a necessary moral evolution in citizens, governments, universities and corporations.

The new Rainbow Warrior III will be launched this month to mark the 40th anniversary of Greenpeace, fusing mythos and ethos.


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