Coming-to-Presence at My Place of Hope
Jürgen Werner Kremer
Adik hangs out on the right side of Rosedale Valley Road for a different reason than Ninaatig. Adik thinks it’s the only spot where hope lives, and they take out their voice recorder and record the sound of hope. It sounds like green leaves, attached to branches, moving in the wind.
—(Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, 2020, p. 100)
Hope, in its most profound and indigenous sense, is rooted in presence in place. Once this quality of presence has been disrupted, then hope can arise again from composting the darkness created by the disruption. This darkness is then what grounds hope, gives it body, makes it palpable and enables a return to presence in place. As such, I begin with a brief accounting of the current darkness of the modern world, the spectacle of its illusions and pathologies. I then suggest how this darkness might be composted and how the veils of deception might be lifted through personal and communal practices of remembrance and indigenous imagination. Using my own journey as an illustration, I describe what might be called a material, psychological, and spiritual practice of hope.
The end of neoliberal hope.
When the French theatre genius and wild man Antonin Artaud visited the Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Indigenous people of Northern Mexico in 1936 he reported that on occasion the Natives would visit the cities to observe urban life. “They go there, as they say, to see how the people are who have deceived themselves” (Artaud, 1983, p. 80; italics in original). Jung (1959), not mincing his words, called the contemporary Western world psychotic. Along these lines, I join many others who regard modernity as destructive dissociative veil that is in a pathological runaway or addictive process, which enforces the denial of the realities of continuous processes, complexities, entanglements, and potentialities. The result is a fundamentally (in its conception) monolithic view of history and the human and natural sciences. Homo sapiens has evolved through a series of evolutionary challenges. These challenges led to changes resulting in shared intentionalities and cultures (Tomasello, 2014). (Post)modernity’s shared veil of deception constitutes our presentday evolutionary challenge. This challenge can be usefully framed as initiatory opportunity.
Jürgen Werner Kremer, Ph.D. is tenured faculty at the Santa Rosa Junior College. He is the editor of ReVision, the president of the Society of Indigenous and Ancestral Wisdom and Healing, and a consultant with the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network and the UN University for Peace. His teaching and writing is centrally dedicated to the affirmation and remembrance of indigenous mind for the sake of humanity’s future.
One kind of hope—I will term it the neoliberal hope—has been repeated and propagated by so many anchored in Euro-centered worlds, namely: globalizing western-style capitalism and liberal democracy create a better world. This notion was of course misguided from its inception. Consider for example the origin story (and continuing story) of Western modernity’s reliance on racism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, heteropatriarchy, and ecocide, i.e., traumatic cuts, separations, and dissociations. Periodic beneficial shifts and advances in the West (e.g., in the areas of health, longevity, suffrage, legal protections) are of course welcome, but are often insecure or fleeting or the cause of new problems. Such events are used by those promoting neoliberal hope to propagate the overall illusion. For example, the fall of the Berlin Wall inspired Fukuyama’s phantom vision (1992) of “the end of history,” a notion he has amended several times since, but which perseveres (2018, p. xii) despite overwhelming contrary evidence.
Žižek (2008) identifies the notion of “the end of history” as “the dominant ethos today … liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally found formula of the best possible society, all that one can do is render it more just, tolerant, and so forth” (p. 421). However, at the current historical juncture neoliberal concepts and frameworks have lost their explanatory and guiding power as developments outside the Eurocentric horizon supersede what neoliberalism can grasp; they interrupt what was propagated as a coherent trajectory of progress, with a shared intentionality and cognitive map. “Anglo-American self-deceptions, which always exacted a high death toll abroad, from the Irish famine to Iraq, have become mass-murderous at home; a blusteringly casual attitude to the pandemic has resulted in tens of thousands of premature deaths in Britain and the United States” (Mishra, 2020, p. 13).
Today, the chimera of neoliberal hope has been fully unmasked by the mounting crises of inequality, racism, global environmental and climate collapse, combined with our inadequate will and capacity to address these crises—a lack of clear intentionality in the face of abundantly available knowledge. To this list can be added the breakdown of communities; the loss of ritual and ceremony; the commercialization of attention, emotions, values, and identities; and the unsolved disappearance of thousands of Native American women and girls (and reprehensible treatment of native communities generally). Among the appalling inequities highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic is the de facto continuation of our colonial, classist, and racist history. Neoliberal concepts and frameworks have lost their explanatory and guiding power.
Neoliberal concepts and frameworks have lost their explanatory and guiding power.
In recent decades neoliberal hope has greatly relied on the powers of the digital world to enrich human life, and the potential benefits of non-conscious artificial cognitive processes, without yet fully acknowledging the destructive outcomes. As just one example, social media-driven propaganda, disinformation, and civic polarization were not a common part of futuristic thinking, yet they are now a signature of our time: “In a hearing today (April 30, 2021, JWK) before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee charged with investigating technology and information warfare, cyber policy and national security expert Dr. Herb Lin of the Hoover Institution told lawmakers that in the modern era we are not formally at war, but we are not at peace either: ‘Information warfare threat to the United States is different from past threats, and it has the potential to destroy reason and reality as a basis for societal discourse, replacing them with rage and fantasy. Perpetual civil war, political extremism, waged in the information sphere and egged on by our adversaries is every bit as much of an existential threat to American civilization and democracy as any military threat imaginable’” (Cox Richardson, 2021).
In this darkening panorama, already incomplete and defective cognitive maps get seduced into a deepening dysfunction that profoundly affects “self,” “other,” and the very future of contemporary societies and species. How to lift this illusionary veil of neoliberal hope, and reclaim a sense of grounded hope?
Part of the answer lies in social action. The Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and the Dakota Access Pipeline movements have lifted the ideological veils of “progress” to expose “the (white) man behind the curtain,” namely the vapid assertions of post-coloniality and post-raciality.
In the U.S., one of the two political parties no longer makes any secret of its racism and anti-democratic quest for a dictatorship of a white Christian minority that is kleptocratic, theocratic, and oligarchic in nature. They have mobilized a reactionary movement to achieve that goal. Mainstream pundits now freely acknowledge that the U.S. may be facing the end of the “Grand Experiment” of American democracy, and the rest of the western world watches with apprehension. In this way both progressive and reactionary social movements help clarify the bankruptcy of neoliberal hope, and the need for a new worldview and the recovery of what Western “civilizations” may have unwisely discarded. Ongoing denial and oppression and the resultant crises are now triggering flashes of deeper remembrance and highlighting the fragility of what seemed an inevitable movement forward.
Ultimately, of course, enduring change means not merely personal change, but also communal (socio-cultural) and structural change. Amnesiacs and magical thinkers are today squarely confronted with the choice of doubling down on their self-deceptions and reliance on a neoliberal hope, or to become present to what is happening and nourish a new kind of hope by remembering a human potential for presence on earth that has largely been forgotten.
Lifting the veil of denial
At the beginning of the novel Homeland Elegies Ayad Akhtar (2020) acknowledges his past denials:
I wouldn’t see it until our private lives had consumed the public space, then been codified, foreclosed, and put up for auction; until the devices that enslave our minds had filled us with the toxic flotsam of a culture no longer worthy of the name; until the bright pliancy of human sentience—attention itself—had become the world’s most prized commodity, the very movements of our minds transformed into streams of unceasing revenue for someone, somewhere. I wouldn’t see it clearly until the American Self had fully mastered the plunder, idealized and legislated the splitting of spoils, and brought to near completion the wholesale pillage not only of the so-called colony … but also of the very world itself. (p. XVII)
Akhtar describes the tearing of the veil of ideological deceptive assumptions of neo-liberalism and the ever more apparent contradictions and failures of late capitalism that indicate changing currents in the spirit of our time. Jung (1959, originally published 1951) labeled the thought process of the spirit of modern times fundamentally as psychotic: “Where rationalistic materialism holds sway, states tend to develop less into prisons than into lunatic asylums” (p. 181, para 282). This is what the Tarahumaras were curious to observe when visiting the cities. The urban exploitation they observed, the exploitation of labor, has now moved, as Akhtar notes, into our inner worlds: attention is the world’s most prized commodity.
During the unfolding history of racism and racist science the use of the Eurocentered brain has become straightjacketed by onto-epistemological and ethical assumptions consciously and unconsciously extolling the virtues of white supremacy and human exceptionalism. These assumptions render invisible what is outside of linear time, outside of the largely dissociative practice of modern mainstream science separating experience from conceptualization; these cuts and separations disturb the balance between different parts of our brain, right and left hemisphere, older and younger parts of the brain. “To be conscious (i.e., to be in modern consciousness) was to be separated from and utterly untainted by anything but itself. … Solipsism is intrinsic to its style of reflection” (Hillman, 1985, p. 53).
Hillman poses the challenge to “see through,” to see past the conceptual constraints into a different sense of presence. Yet, “modern consciousness as white consciousness cannot get there, and what it finds is always dead” (p. 54). Contained in Hillman’s notion of “seeing through” (1975) is a yearning to bring to life thoughts and images to connect with aliveness, with experience. “Simply to participate in events or to suffer them strongly, or to accumulate a variety of them, does not differentiate or deepen one’s psychic capacity into what is often called a wise or an old soul … There must be a vision of what is happening, deep ideas to create experience. Otherwise we have had the events without experiencing them, and the experience of what happened comes only later when we gain an idea of it—when it can be envisioned by an archetypal idea” (Hillman, 1975, p. 54).
During the unfolding history of racism and racist science the use of the Eurocentered brain has become straightjacketed by onto-epistemological and ethical assumptions extolling the virtues of white supremacy and human exceptionalism.
This is where Hillman’s “Notes on White Supremacy” ultimately take us all who are implicated in White supremacy to one degree or another: the logical terminus of his psychological philosophy is the remembrance of an indigenous sense of presence in the world. Indigenous traditions represent decolonial worlds that persist despite the onslaughts of modernity/coloniality, despite their inevitable entanglements with modernity/coloniality. Here (post)moderns can find the continuing presence of performative practices that irrupt as the revenge of the suppressed and persecuted into contemporary conceptual worlds that barely can acknowledge Indigenous existence and fail to perceive much that is central to Indigenous worlds.
“The West” needs to find answers to the central questions of our times in the radical otherness that indigeneity represents.
How can “the West” not only move its understanding beyond the confines of neoliberalism and the colonial educational systems and academic conventions of the West, but also develop or remember practices that create contrapuntal balancing presences in the face of run-away crises and fixes that resemble the hustles of addicts? How to address the evolutionary challenges made visible in the social media monetization of our attention or Black Lives Matter, Me Too or Dakota Access Pipeline, and other movements? It is increasingly apparent that “the West” needs to find answers to the central questions of our times in the radical otherness that indigeneity represents.
The dis-illusionment process from neoliberal hope to an awakening recognition of shadows, darkness, losses, and forgetting is a powerful opportunity for an initiatory journey. It allows us (post)moderns to step outside the prevailing paradigm and into a process of radical presence that has the potential gift of generating deeply grounded hope.
Hillman had the good intuitive and analytical sense to reach for a sense of presence where “thinking is trying to think the unthinkable” in its connections to experience. Thinking the unthinkable means lifting the veils in acts of remembering and coming-to-presence. As Cixous (1993, p. 38) states succinctly: “thinking the thinkable is not worth the effort.” Thinking the thinkable reinforces dissociations from presence, memory, and history. Reaching for radical otherness in thought and presence, thinking the unthinkable, means that the value of a thought measures itself by its distance from the continuity of the known and from the prevailing paradigm of modernity/coloniality (paraphrasing Adorno, 1980, p. 90).
The objective value of a thought decreases the closer it cleaves to the dissociative performative requirements of post/modernity. As long as it approaches the pre-given standard, the more its antithetical function vanishes. And its value increases as we (post)moderns find the courage to put our lives, identities, and normative assumptions on the line. Its cause is founded not only in its value to its direct opposite, in the antithesis to the deceptive veils of modernity/coloniality. It’s most important values can be found in embodied thought stepping outside of the prevailing paradigm, stepping outside the dynamics of oppositions and antagonism as defined by the prevailing paradigm, stepping outside of what the prevailing consensus deems “legitimate.” We instead enter into intimate connections with experience, confrontations with the unconscious, and remembrances of personal and collective (hi)stories and entanglements, with the intimacy of place and its history.
This Artaud-esque act of leaving the given normalcy means standing outside the circles of habitual thought, even standing outside the circle of critical responses to habitual thought. This is because the circumference of this circle is, in final analysis, defined not by the critical response, but what the critique responds to—namely the habitual thought patterns of modernity/coloniality. The dynamics of statement and critique, of thesis and anti-thesis, perpetuates a stranglehold that constrains the movements of sovereign visionary presences. Abandoning the circle of the dialects defined by post/modernity means keeping the door to visionary sovereignty open . (i)
Instead of measuring our knowing using the tools imposed as purportedly universal givens by the forces of modernity (and deconstructed in postmodernity in moves structured by modern discourse), we are challenged to step outside this paradigm where the intricacies of being and knowing— “beingknowing,” one might say—come to presence. We develop practices within an entirely different onto-epistemology and ethics. Rather than representing and controlling we are performing or embodying. We are engaged in the work of coming-to-presence. Stepping outside the prevailing paradigm is an initiatory move.
Stepping outside the prevailing paradigm is an initiatory move.
This un/settling and unsettled place is outside of the process of decolonization or postmodernity, outside the process of the critical opposition; instead it is a space of decolonial performances refusing the reach of modernity/coloniality (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018). Apffel-Marglin (2011) discusses rituals as the performance of livable common worlds. “What is common is that the world comes into being through intra-actions that typically take the form of rituals, those carefully orchestrated intra-actions meant to bring about a livable world … These non-anthropocentric collective actions endeavor to bring about not just any common world, but a livable common world.”
The remembrance and assertion of decolonial worlds hails the possibility of the end of the Anthropocene.
This remembrance and assertion of decolonial worlds hails the possibility of the end of the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch of significant human impact on our planet and the rise of a posthumanist world in which human exceptionalism has been abandoned. It recognizes the necessity and possibility for egalitarian knowledge exchanges among peoples. It is the place where the addictive and traumatic spirit of our times can reach for transformation. These are contemporary places, memories, and images that un/settle through flashes of remembrance and presence that irrupt into time, mind, and reality as defined by modernity/coloniality. They can re/make the future and they can also re/make the past as the veils are lifted. They bear generative seeds for responses as we (post)moderns are challenged to move from one world into another, from one way of performing self and other into a different sense of coming-to-presence.
Hope by different names
By all accounts the English word ‘hope’ is of comparatively recent origin, reaching back to the early 13th century and arising from Saxon and Low German (with somewhat unclear origins beyond that). My interpretation of this etymology is that with the rise of linearity, progress, Christianity (monotheism), and, eventually, modernity/coloniality, hope emerged as separate abstract concept distinct from non-linear understandings of time, separate from the complex patterns of responsibilities and mutuality in cause and effect intra-actions that are part of a ritualized conversation with the world. It may well be that the Western abstract concept of hope and the arising of linear future perspectives of progress go hand in hand. Hope only appears in the Western world, it seems, as separate perspective once ongoing (ritual) practices affirming and manifesting hope and balance are disrupted.
Ernst Bloch’s magisterial Das Prinzip Hoffnung (The Principle of Hope, 1954-1959), written 1938 to 1947 during the darkness of World War Two while in exile in the U.S., was originally entitled Dreams of a Better Life. Hope is what enables utopian thinking and Bloch regards his version of utopian thinking as connecting to real possibilities rather than chimeras. Bloch understands hope as basic life-affirming drive. Our daydreams reach into the future of a better life, they help humanity move from the not-yet-conscious to the conscious hopeful pursuit of actualizing human possibilities. Bloch’s analysis is based in Freudian drive theory and Marxist analysis, but it also connects with spiritual traditions, such as Taoism. Utopian thinking about work, art, technology, architecture, and religion is important for the completion of the human project, the transformation of what creates insecurity or discriminates against other humans. Work then serves to satisfy basic needs rather than the maximization of profit. Hope, according to Bloch, is central to our daily existence and possibilities of a better future. (ii)
Lear (2006) defines radical hope as “directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is. Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it” (p. 103). His discussion is focused on Crow culture and its destruction by violent settler colonialism, but the concept of radical hope is relevant for anybody infected by the Wetiko disease (Forbes, 2008), the Eurocentered virus of progress, the viral story that began gathering strength in the Renaissance (Mignolo, 1995), and is captured in Silko’s (1977) witchery story. Lear’s interpretations are based in a Western understanding of hope, and it is tempting to transpose his notion of radical hope from the times of Crow colonization to our contemporary challenges. As current concepts and cultural and economic practices prove incapable of resolving the crises in our face and in our bodies, we (post)moderns seem to have the choice of engaging with a process of radical hope whose “aim is to establish what we might legitimately hope at a time when the sense of purpose and meaning that has been bequeathed to us by our culture has collapsed” (p. 104). But we may need to go one step further and look for radical hope by an indigenous name.
We need to go one step further and look for radical hope by an indigenous name.
Here hope is not important as abstract concept that yearns into the future of linear time by way of looking beyond the line-up of historical events. Instead, hope is rooted in a sense of presence that is concretely entangled, neither linear nor cyclical; that reaches into the past and into the future; that is part of a rich present, a thick pattern of entanglements. (iii)
Taking radical hope out of the paradigm of linearity transforms it into hope for a sense of cultural practice and presence that the Crow were ripped out of by colonial forces. Stepping outside of the circle of modernity/coloniality means engaging with radical hope by an indigenous name and aiming for a sense of subjectivity and socio-cultural practice that does not exist in modernity/coloniality; it only appears in memories flashing up and spaces resisting the reach of Eurocentered influences. In a sense this means relinquishing hope in the abstract sense of the word, revisioning radical hope, and re-embedding hope into nurturing conversations.
Radical hope inevitably includes the confrontation with shadow material.
Places like this continue to exist in parallel to the violent forces the West continues to perpetrate. Not that these assertions of visionary sovereignty have ever been possible in any pure sense since the beginnings of coloniality/modernity, yet their remarkable qualitative difference has been noted as disturbing and thus continues to be marked by ongoing colonial violence (whether in the form of economic, educational, missionary, gender, or other violence). And such assertions of visionary sovereignty also exist and flash up in (post)modernity as memories of places where rituals and the performance of livable common worlds have been disrupted or seemingly destroyed by the march of progress. The remembrance of embodied practices of presence grounded in intimacy of place allows for the arising of hope by an indigenous name, a sense of radical aliveness originating from the indigenous inheritance all peoples carry.
Native Elders have frequently stated that people of European descent need to remember their own indigenous roots: “I do not want people to adopt Indian rituals because I want people to own their own rituals. I want them to come to ownership out of experiences that are real to them. Then I’ll come and celebrate with them” (Cattaraugus Seneca John Mohawk, as recorded by Spretnak, 1991).
To theorize the process of recovery of indigenous mind properly means revisioning the common understanding of the discipline of psychology.
The idea of the recovery of indigenous mind and roots doesn’t make much sense within the Western paradigm or within Western psychology. After all, the reference is to times hundreds and thousands of years ago. Consequently, it is easy to dismiss this notion out of hand as absurd.
However, for a variety of personal and political reasons, I was inspired by this challenge and possibility and felt compelled by my desire to establish a framework of egalitarian knowledge exchange among peoples outside of the paradigm of colonial appropriation and arrogance. Ever since I have worked to conceptualize the recovery process of indigenous mind. While this project has made persuasive sense to me for several decades now, I continued to have difficulty understanding and detailing the depth of what this process all entails. Something was missing. As it were, I was disturbed by a sense that there was more than what met my mind on the surface.
I have come to realize that to theorize the process of recovery of indigenous mind properly means, for example, revisioning the common understanding of the discipline of psychology, something that matters to me as a psychologist. Neither Indigenous philosophies nor quantum field theory—two seemingly different approaches that share important qualities—have impacted the field of psychology in significant ways, much to its detriment. This essay is an attempt to outline a few of the central coordinates of the depth of the recovery of indigenous mind process (a promissory note, as it were). And with it I develop a rudimentary framework for a transdisciplinary and integrative psychology.
Neither time, nor matter, nor mind, nor consciousness, nor place can be any longer understood in the terms the dominant Western paradigm offers (a paradigm that should have been impacted much more dramatically by quantum field theories, the most significant development within the Western paradigm). It is my good fortune that I can draw on contributions that have worked to undermine and expand this paradigm. (iv)
Round about the well of memory
I took Apela Colorado’s advice and started the quest for my own indigenous roots, which included longer sojourns in Sápmi, the land of the Sámi people of the European Arctic, the only contemporary Indigenous peoples in Europe, as well as return travel to Germany. I visited Sápmi for neighborly knowledge trade since, in the midst of Fenno-Scandian modernity, shamanism and Indigenous presence are persisting. Dialogues with culture bearers and ritual engagement in places marked as sacred were the purpose of my trips.
I then, for a short while, lived on Iceland, because, as Jorge Luis Borges (1999, pp. 400 & 401) states succinctly and poetically:
… Fría rosa, isla secreta
que fuiste la memoria de Germania
y salvaste para nosotros
su apagada, enterrada mitología …
… Icy rose, secret island,
you were Germania’s memory;
you saved for us
her snuffed-out, buried myths …
Living on Iceland was my way of connecting with ancestral memories that the island had saved. Here I unearthed what was buried, seemingly snuffed out, yet vibrant enough to flash back into my life, catalyzing a process of coming-to-presence in encounters with primordial and visionary dimensions while simultaneously catalyzing conceptualizations and inquiries beyond the conventions I had been trained in.
So here I stand, amidst the din of screams of nature violated and humans neglected, traumatized, and persecuted, my body bridging inside/out to my place of hope, an ancestral memory where the entanglement of mind and matter, imaginal and real, story and careful observation bring me to stillness and presence. This is the beginning point of a process that has communal origins and, once again, ultimately requires a communal process. My personal starting place is in need of communal weavings that may obviate individualistic distortions.
The place of hope in my oldest ancestral root memories is a well by a life-giving tree where three women reach into the source of memory and re/generation, fertilizing the world with aurr, a fertile mass, a concrete entanglement of void and matter in the well, the concrete power of the imaginal; this is the dew that dabbles the dales, a creative and generative move, holo/sexual and erotic for sure, mind and matter appearing as time resists the simplistic corset of linearity. (v)
The three women reach into the source of re/generation and memory, catalyzing becoming (Verðandi) from exigent obligations (Skuld) as dark and light memory (Urðr) is re/collected. The three fertilize and inspirit the tree and the dales around as their pro/creative moves spread aurr, the riches of white dew, the catalyst of creation. Time manifests here not as progressive line, but as fateful movements, with flashes moving backward and forward, wealthy with potential for balancing acts. Prophecy was never about predicting the future but understanding the thick and multi-layered present during encounters with the past in horrifying and ecstatic primordial processes. Murakami’s Windup Bird Chronicles (1998) and Jung’s Red Book (2009) are examples of what the immersion in the well and primordial realms may offer; or, if you are inclined to travel the Greek way, hitch a ride with the goddess into the underworld, let Parmenides be your guide (Laks & Most, 2016; Kingsley, 2020). The three women, Verðandi, Skuld, and Urðr are at the center of my place of hope.
My personal starting place is in need of communal weavings that may obviate individualistic distortions.
My personal starting place is in need of communal weavings that may obviate individualistic distortions.
The three women appear around the well, its depth the access to re/generative primordial regions, memories and visions, re/configurations and remembrances. And then there appear three men.
One embodies ecstasy and poetry, Oðr, the oldest presence of Oðinn, two ravens on his shoulder, two wolves by his side and one eye sacrificed to depths of understanding and prophetic and utopian memory.
The second is Hœnir, the one who gave the light of reason and the dark of rationalistic encrustations, who knows of silence, passion, and ceremonial celebration.
And, importantly, the third appearing is the slippery trickster whose mischievous play loosens where obstruction and sclerosis have prevailed, an inevitable gender fluid presence by multiple names. Danger looms when our sense of self is incapable of self-irony and laughter about our rationalistic follies and grandiosities; this is when Loki may intervene to puncture our inflations.
Attending to my place of hope means ritually embodying the bridging of mind and matter, of the imaginal and the literal, of inside and outside, spirits and material manifestations, archetypes throbbing and matter remembering.
It is the dew from the well, the aurr, that nurtures the tree of life, the world tree and axis mundi, which is inhabited by the squirrel of consciousness moving up and down the trunk, by eagle and hawk, by several snakes and a dragon at its roots, and four deer feeding on its leaves. On top of the tree stands Heimdallur, the guardian of the bridge into the starry realms (his role as guardian is to check on dissociative moves in the self, the losses of an indigenous mind process that now makes movements across the bridge treacherous). The well reaches down and the tree reaches up into our primordial memories and connections, altogether a different sense of time, a weaving of im/material tapestries and human presence in the world.
This is my place of hope and measure. It is a place that arises from communal vision and that finds its completion in communal practice. To attend to it means ritually embodying the bridging of mind and matter, of the imaginal and the literal, of inside and outside, spirits and material manifestations, archetypes throbbing and matter remembering.
Where I aim to stand in my practice is outside the mind territory I was raised in, outside the confines of embodiment I was trained in. This is a place not merely of disagreement or contradiction to prevailing paradigms and norms, the dialectics of its post/modern critical conversations, but a place wholly other and contained in its own sense of presence—an imaginal place and a literal multiplicity of places to re/turn to; a pregnant image of complexity fashioned into the appearance of simplicity.
Remembering the history of the betrayal of this ancestral memory is part of my healing work. This is not the memory of a stable image, as conventional historical understanding would suggest (such as an image presented in a book of history or mythology or even in a sacred text), but the intra-active engagement with heterogeneity through concrete intra-actions, ritual remembrances in the dense weave of the now.
When this image of the tree of life and the six presences is discussed by scholars of mythology and folklore, it becomes part of the world of modernity/coloniality where it is dismissed as early history, pre/modern, an irrational image of no importance to the world of modern science. In folklore seminars the story is a mythological curiosity which can only be understood as falsehood, now that myth mostly has come to mean untruth. It is part of a curious collection of mis/representations that are interesting as poetry and story, but irrelevant to contemporary reality, social practices, and understanding.
However, by stilling the vibrant process the image evokes, it has also been abused for fundamentalist and fascist purposes in contradiction to the process of visionary sovereignty it entails. The intentions of the victorious dominant forces are obedience, control, and belief, the stilling of any process bridging imaginal and everyday realities; this is the murder of visionary sovereignty and the enshrinement of conformity.
It is tempting to hold this image in a simplistic fashion, as part of a linear history that as lifeless memory then triggers nostalgia, sentimentality, and romanticism, the opposite of coming-to-presence. This is what can be seen in the paintings of Gauguin and Rousseau. Retro-romanticism and other dissociative moves enable the forces of acquisition to devour these fantasies for the purposes of profit.
Possibly one of the worst ideas humans ever had is purity in its various manifestations, the dissociative cut that creates a hypostasis of one pure element over another, a colonial move denying entanglements (Shotwell, 2016); by contrast, among the more difficult ideas for humans to sustain, are unceasing process, complexity, paradox, and ambiguity while simultaneously striving for accuracy, integrity, and truth. Holding the image of the well and the six presences simplistically is ultimately life denying; by contrast, engaging with its complexity facilitates not only labors of remembrance, but it re/configures time, materiality, and mind/consciousness (as I will explore below).
Holding the image of the well and the tree with fundamentalist purity empowers the forces of dissociation and enslavement. Holding this ancestral image in its complexity means acknowledging the complexity of my ancestral lines reaching from Northern Germany into the Alsace Lorraine where many Jewish people shifted to a Goyish identity, reaching east and northward, to shtetls in in the borderlands of Poland and Lithuania, and north from there. It means acknowledging not only where I come from but where I live now. It compels me to acknowledge that I am writing on the unceded traditional lands of the Pomo, Miwok and Wappo peoples in Northern California, that I am an immigrant and settler enmeshed with the consequences of a genocidal history and a history of enslavement..
The woman of memory (Urðr) obliges me to provide an ethno-accounting of my presence on this land.
The three women by the depth of the well give access to historical and primordial memories. The three men at the point of anthropogenesis inspirit and give life to the first humans found as trees on the beach. And there is the central tree by many names and visions materializing: holy oak, ash, beech, rowan, elder, Weckholter (juniper), fir, pine, larch, Irminsul, Yggrasil. Its roots reach into the sources of un/knowing and re-membering, its top branches reach into the realms of rainbows by day and the milky way by night bridging multi-layered time and reality.
These are sources of science and imagination, the sources of nurturing conversations, the sources for balancing ourselves inside and outside, the sources of communal truths. This is the space in which time weaves and thickens in lines, cycles, and where remembrances flash up; it is far from empty, it is filled with presence, it is filled with potential and in/determinacy.
The fluidity and interplay of the motion of the three women and men is a visionary process, a transmotion (Vizenor, 1998, p. 15) (viii) into potential and possibility as mind and matter intra-act, a natural sovereign motion and presence of the self interwoven with the worlds around.
The six are a ceremonial evocation, a shimmering presence and reality, the motion of remembering, of discerning obligations, of unfolding as trickery, ecstasy, as the depths of reason confront and plunge us (post)moderns into the potentials of presence. The interlacing of these movements creates certainty and unpredictability as vision and dream inspire. The foundational movement of the three women reaching into the well is a certain (holo)sexual and pro/creative move that catalyzes change and the possibility of balance. It generates the possibility of an emergent presence in place that is decolonial and affirmative of native presence all around as dark memories are ritually acknowledged.
“The void is a lively tension, a desiring orientation toward being/becoming … In/determinacy is not the state of a thing but an unending dynamism” (Barad, 2015, p. 396).
I did not grow up with the image of the six presences at tree and well, in fact, my shame and abhorrence of Old Norse mythic stories was intense in the aftermath of their Nazi abuses and the prior patriarchal and violent genocidal interpretations and uses of these stories. The thought of “going Viking” as rite of passage always gave me the shudders and my book of German mythology, printed in Fraktur font, so often regarded as “true German script” and the official Nazi font, was untouchable and remained unopened during my childhood; I was deadly afraid of contamination by poisonous ideologies. So I grew up with the conundrum of existentialist imagery and interpretations on the one hand and creative and nurturing inspirations from the natural world of the Northern German moors, marshes, sand dunes, and forests on the other.
My childhood world of darkness, destruction, and denial entered my body, was incised in my body in cuneiform marks that required psychological digs for decipherment, carved in my bone as tumor and chronic pain.
The tree in the play has no leaves at its opening and Vladmimir and Estragon struggle to perceive it accurately: What is it? A tree? A bush? A shrub? A willow? At one point Estragon suggests: “Why don’t we hang ourselves?” Of course, the promise of the arrival of Mr. Godot becomes a broken promise: “Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow.” In the second act the tree has four or five leaves, yet, despite this small sign of hope, Mr. Godot yet again fails to arrive.
In Berlin, at the time an island walled in and heavily guarded by East German and Russian military, I watched Endgame under Beckett’s own direction, two of the characters residing in trash cans in an apparent pitiful state, another the servant, and the fourth the autocratic master.
For me, the bleakness of these plays depicted the hopelessness and darkness of the times accurately and viscerally. Sartre’s Huis clos (No Exit) captured my mood inside the circle of the Berlin wall where East Germans trying to escape the dictatorship were regularly murdered; it captured my hopelessness by evoking an afterlife in which “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). The ruins of the Second World War, holocaust denial, and an optimism solely grounded in the stunning economic progress of the German Wiederaufbau and Wirtschaftswunder did not inspire any hope in me; action reigned over introspection and self-confrontation.
Undetonated bombs from the Second World War were fished out of the river in front of our house on a weekly basis and we had to open our windows to prevent them from shattering in case of a blast. Teachers claimed they had not noticed their Jewish neighbors disappearing during the Shoah. And then the war ruins I walked by every day—all of this I held in my body.
This world of darkness, destruction, and denial entered my body, was incised in my body in cuneiform marks that required psychological digs for decipherment, carved in my bone as tumor and chronic pain. I had no language to adequately capture the depth of my experience and no mentor helped me forge words of release.
The shimmering image of the well is one of my guides into the sedimented origins of oppression and oppressed people, into indigenous practices of knowing and being that catalyze non-dissociative presence.
The shimmering image of the well is one of my guides into the sedimented origins of oppression and oppressed people, into indigenous practices of knowing and being that catalyze non-dissociative presence.
The denuded center stage tree of Waiting for Godot was balanced by my own explorations of nature. The hobby, a bluish smaller version of a peregrine, screaming its piercing call on top of a pine tree embodied my hope for freedom and creativity. The seal and the herring gull I raised were companions that balanced the failure of Mr. Godot to show up or Hamm’s autocratic directions on stage. Beethoven provided emotional release, comfort, and inspiration, but the mating cadences of the curlew soaring above the bog ultimately had more power in my heart. The scream of the arctic tern cut through hopelessness to levels of my sense of self and presence that were reassuring and touched kernels of hope.
The healing balm of nature and my passion for art found an inspiring synthesis in seeing an image of a Schimmel, the German for white horse, on stage during one of Joseph Beuys’ actions during the Frankfurt Theatre Festival (Tisdall, 1979).
I had just spent a night walking into the foggy and snowy hills behind my school, meandering in a landscape that led me through the process of abstraction as beech and oak transformed into geometric patterns—Mondrian’s paintings in the forest; the lines of trees, hills, and path created abstractions of enticing beauty. Red Tree becoming Horizontal Tree, becoming Mondrian’s compositions.
Along the way I encountered the skeleton of a dead boar and I was able to take its fang as medicine gift. Joseph Beuys had the courage to explain pictures to a dead hare and in 1974 he lived with a coyote for one week in the René Block Gallery in New York City to heal the psychological trauma of the history of the United States, because “a reckoning has to be made with the coyote, and only then can this trauma be lifted” (Beuys, 1990, p. 141).
When it came to words, Paul Celan’s poetry suggested the necessity to wash words so that they can bear witness, a purification ceremony to enable remembrances. I followed his tracks, “written asunder,” and in my imagination joined the conversation in the mountains where nature and memory can meet and heal (Celan, 1988; Hawkins, 2002).
Hopelessness and hope exchanged places in turbulent moves between my existentialist dark night journeys, in the touching of art and nature which provided soothing balms and flashes of inspiration. Often ‘hope’ and ‘optimism’ are understood to be synonymous, with the invocation of optimism an obligatory rhetorical move in U.S. political discourse, no matter the circumstance and commonly devoid of any analytical context. In my use of language optimism, as I experienced it in the German Wirtschaftswunder, its “economic miracle,” is defined by its lack of engagement with the shadow, with the possibility of failure, the experience of moments of hopelessness and overwhelm, and the encounter with recalcitrant obstacles along the way. By contrast, hope by a different name arises from composting darkness. This darkness is what grounds it, gives it body, makes it palpable, and creates potential on the edges of imagination.
My existentialist despair about the political circumstances of my upbringing led to the emergence of hope that ultimately found its personal reality in the presence of the tree by the well and the three women and men in their unfolding movement catalyzing intra-actions of mind and matter and fertilizing the world with flashes of memory. It gave me growing courage to step where fear so often gets in the way. It has prompted me to try and to “try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Beckett, 1983) as I was struggling with the issues of what Indigenous science, philosophies, and ceremonial practices might mean for a white man today in the resolution of our conundrums and crises.
Žižek (2008) interprets Beckett’s work depicting the inevitability of failure as opening paths to imaginative ways of utopian thinking. For me the darkness of German history, or Beckett’s existentialism and experience of the Nazi occupation as a member of the French résistance (Morin, 2017), or Walter Benjamin’s suicide in Port Bou as he was trying to flee his murderers (Eiland & Jennings, 2014)—all these pointed to my way beyond and outside utopian thinking as extension of a monolithic historicity; they point me to the remembrance of the deeper layers of Indigenous visionary sovereignty and a multi-layered sense of presence through the confrontation with darkness. Thus utopian thinking finds its grounding in the active working through of shadow material and the active remembrance and affirmation of decolonial islands.
The shimmering image of the well, the tree, and the three women and men is one of my guides out of the aporias of modernity/coloniality and into the sedimented origins of oppression and oppressed people, into indigenous practices of knowing and being that catalyze non-dissociative presence.
Severing ritual entanglements
Composting hopelessness with the help of ancient images requires an understanding of time and remembrance that is consistent with Indigenous ways of “beingknowing.” Recovery of indigenous mind in a sense that is meaningful for today means reaching into the depths of what appears in remembrance.
How can remembrance work across time spans that often seem beyond the reach of any reasonable certainty or meaningfulness? How can memory be not merely a one-dimensional inventory of “facts” in the line-up of stories about victorious progress, useful as this may be? As long as one works within a framework of linear time and causality, any reach for depths outside the given constraints of historiography barely makes “sense” and suggests retro-romantic and nostalgic inclinations. (ix)
The next sections inquire into the dissociative cuts central to the practice of linear time and contrast it with the thick present Indigenous traditions and quantum interpretations suggest.
Linear time and the notion of progress in modernity/coloniality, the accumulation of knowledge over time, suggest that anything Indigenous, even if it continues to be present (a surviving “remnant,” a prehistoric island that should have been vanquished long ago), is remote and nothing but a chimera from times prior to the origins of linearity. If time is linear, empty, and homogenous, if it is filled with the linear progress of humankind, then the recovery of Indigenous knowledge, images, and practices can hardly be of significance.
The temporality of progress was enforced on the Crow and other Indigenous peoples. Prior to that—and as precondition—the sense of time changed in Europe with the rise of monotheism, the Enlightenment, and the notions of classical physics that were part of the emergent Western sciences. Clocks began to govern lives in the fourteenth century. First, the historical transformations, beginning particularly in the renaissance, effected in Europe the erasure of what is commonly labeled prehistoric, oral tradition, primitive, or tribal (as opposed to “the civilized”); this shift in consciousness and material practices enabled modernity/coloniality to work effectively on the erasure of Indigenous traditions all over the globe.
The ritual engagement with time as complex weave of a present thick with past and future was subdued in both cases by the regimen of clock time (in the European “centers” and subsequently in Indigenous worlds).
This shift and dissociative split can be called the original trauma of “the West,” resulting in a biopsychosocial configuration, continuing into the present, which might rightfully be described as ongoing process of posttraumatic injury. The chronic stress resulting from the separation from resources that nurture and balance the self can generatively be framed as traumatic process in order to understand the depths of its impact.
The separations during this original trauma are the normative split of the cessation of ongoing ritual engagement with the world. The old norms of mutuality, balancing, and ongoing storied process are now substituted by abstract rules of exchange and dissociative, objectifying forms of observation. With it comes an avoidance of remembrance, the world turns amnesiac.
The original trauma of “the West” might rightfully be described as ongoing process of posttraumatic injury.
And what is remembered now is flattened, remnant cardboard images retaining vague traces of what was profound engagement before the trauma. Research has shown (e.g., Harris, 2018) that these types of adversity, these disconnections and losses, these traumatic incisions consciously acknowledged or not, are passed on generationally through epigenetics. Normative dissociation thus was written into the flesh and manifests today through a wide variety of defensive and offensive symptoms (“white fragility”) impeding the healing of racist histories.
The qualities of ritual engagement with the world (communally grounded, even when individually performed) are markers of social practices that create cultural worlds at odds with what modernity/coloniality demands of individuals. Rituals are “symbolic techniques of making oneself at home in the world … They structure time, furnish it” (Han, 2020, p. 2). “Past and present are brought together into a living present … Rituals are processes of embodiment and bodily performances … Rituals create a bodily knowledge and memory, an embodied identity, a bodily connection … Rituals are narrative processes that do not allow for acceleration. Symbols stand still … Rituals contain aspects of the world, they produce in us a strong relationship to the world … Rituals … disburden the ego of the self, de-psychologizing and de-internalizing the ego” (pp. 8, 11, 13, 14).
Rituals at the well under the tree in the presence of the three women and men enact an intimate relationship with the world, they create stillness and depth of interiority beyond words; they connect into the depths of the presence through past and future, through the richness of mutuality, responsibility, alterity, and the impurities of origin.
The qualities of deep personal and communal ritual engagement had been central to the Crow world before colonization and just as they were central to European indigenous cultures. Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets (2007) tracks the shifts of celebratory festivals and rituals from balancing and healing to their use in the politics of control and the creation of conformity, spectacles to keep the populus deceived and thus oppressed.
Ritual engagement with the world and storytelling (including dream sharing) are communal activities. Freedom is only possible in community, it depends on the success and balance of my relationships with others: “’Only in community [with others does each] individual [have] the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible’ … being free means nothing other than self-realization with others” (Han, 2017, p. 3; initial quote from Marx).
Normative dissociation was written into the flesh and manifests today through a wide variety of defensive and offensive symptoms impeding the healing of racist histories.
The movement of time changed as the circles of gift economies, i.e., exchanges based on concrete and personal intra-actions by the tree or the well, exchanges based in stories and rituals, were superseded by the abstract exchanges governed by currencies, by one-dimensional quantification, and profit maximization (Vaughan, 1997, 2015, 2019; Kailo, 2012).
Kailo defines the “gift imaginary” as worldview “that emerges from the values, social systems and ecosocially sustainable attitudes of people rooted in gift circulating cultures, old and new” (she cites the Haudenosaunee, the Sumatran Minangkaban, the Indian Khasi, and the South-Afrikan Khoesan as examples). What had been a cycle of mutual nurturance, utility, and stories shared over the exchanges—the Andean criar y dejarse criar (to nurture and be nurtured)—became a causal line of amassing abstract wealth that breeds greed for more wealth, a runaway addiction. Walter Benjamin, in 1921, called capitalism “a religion of pure cult, without dogma” which “offers not the reform of existence but its total destruction” (1996, p. 290-1; 1985, p. 102).
The significance of Karl Marx’ analysis of the pathogenetic inner workings of capitalism, of alienation and exploitation, has not been diminished as it has been updated by Harvey (2014, 2018) and others. The self-colonization of Europe and the colonial disruptions the world over created dissociative norms through the destruction of rituals which split humans from nurturing interconnections with place, community, dreams, animals, plants, weather, mountains, and other relations, from the process of visionary sovereignty.
Normative dissociation is the runaway process that leads from crisis to crisis relinquishing the capacity to go beyond temporary band aids and reach for the recovery of ritual presence and ways of “beingknowing” that catalyze fundamental change.
The destructive power of rapacious capitalism is captured by Alan Ginsburg in his poem Howl (2006, p. 139), where humans sacrifice themselves at the altar of Moloch:
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Ginsburg’s personal and cultural lament, ruthless and dark as it is, has since been bested by the recent developments in capitalism, the heightening of normative dissociation and an increasingly narcissistic individualism. In Han’s analysis “neoliberalism and financial capitalism … are implementing a post-industrial, immaterial mode of production … neoliberalism transforms workers into entrepreneurs … People are now master and slave in one. Even class struggle has transformed into an inner struggle against oneself” (2017, p. 5).
What before was a wrestle with alienation and exploitation out in the world now has been transformed into an internal arena that obscures the underlying dynamics of material relationships in the world. Where once were visions, dreams, imagination—the depths of interiority—there now are quantifiable data that can be sold.
“Today, we consume not only things themselves but also the emotions that are bound up with things … the aesthetic is colonized by the economic … Values such as justice, humanity or sustainability are exploited for profit … Moral values are consumed as marks of distinction. They are credited to the ego-account, appreciating the value of self. They increase our narcissistic self-respect. Through values we relate not to community but to our own egos” (Han, 2020, p. 5).
Humans are denuded now, literally naked without the clothing of their natural interconnections, separated from the weave of nature, of dream, of totemic presences and imaginations.
Profit voracity is its unrelenting hallmark as it continues to transform and reinvent itself while preserving the fundamental exploitative and alienating dynamics.
“Digital psychopolitics transforms the negativity of freely made decisions into the positivity of factual states (Sachverhalte). Indeed, persons are being positivized into things, which can be quantified, measured and steered … Big Data has announced the end of the person who possesses free will” (Han, 2017, p. 12).
Emotions are for sale; self-disclosure is for sale; attention is for sale; charisma is for sale; symbols of protest are for sale (“change the world while drinking tea”).
The normative dissociation of contemporary WEIRD societies (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic; Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010; Henrich, 2020), the ones that have pursued this path with the greatest rigor and vigor, manifests in multiple dimensions, but the power of Moloch, the abstract value of money, and the imperative to amass and concentrate more wealth, surely is among the causal factors that determine illusory and ungrounded hope or optimism. The pleasurable dopamine kick, often programmed to be addictive, regularly outmaneuvers serotonin processes of contentment and happiness.
The remembrance of indigenous mind can be seen as a redemptive process with the potential of granting us our full past.
The shallow now of the algorithmically determined pleasure devastates any complexity and layering of time, the depth of the well—the generative reach of the three women into the void and the creative play of the three men. Humans are denuded now, literally naked without the clothing of their natural interconnections, separated from the weave of nature, of dream, of totemic presences and imaginations. Denuded means being turned into an easily quantifiable item, psyche for sale. Gift economies, by contrast, established their equivalencies through the richness of personal history, connections, story, and obligations.
Now the gift economy with the tree of life and the well at its center, which helped maintain communal balance, has changed into a notion of “progress”: humans are bereft of their natural interconnections, the weave of self into nature and nature into self, of self and dream, of self and totem.
What had been a lurching movement of presences enmeshed with each other became a linear movement of clock time moving forward in a compulsory causal straight line of progress leading into the future. Each step along this progression defines prior steps as ultimately dismissable—incomplete, inferior, or primitive.
Flashes of remembrance
In 1940 the German philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote his Theses on the Philosophy of History, shortly before he suicided. (x) It ended up being his last major work and an important piece of his legacy. The themes of redemption, the remembrance of history in its completeness, and the critique of “homogeneous, empty time” (1974, p. 701, Thesis XIII) (xi) are central to the theses as he orients to the possibility of liberated descendants.
The writing of the Theses was motivated, as he told correspondents, “by the experience of his generation in the years leading up to Hitler’s war” (Eiland & Jennings, 2014, p. 659). Mythic and theological notions are put in the context of politics and the understanding of history. “Only a redeemed mankind is granted the fullness of its past—which is to say, only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments” (Benjamin, 1974, p. 694, trans. Eiland & Jennings). He asserts that “history is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogenous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now” or Jetztzeit (p. 701, Thesis XIV).
Moments of qualitative and revolutionary change explode the purported continuum of history through awareness constellated in flashes of memory. The historian or historically aware person “takes cognizance of [the revolutionary chance for the oppressed past] in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history” (p. 703, Thesis XVII).
The Newtonian worldview is in shambles, yet its power in the field of psychology and other disciplines continues seemingly undiminished.
In this sense the remembrance or recovery of indigenous mind (and similarly its ongoing performative affirmations by Indigenous peoples all over the world) can be seen as a redemptive process with the potential of granting us our full past, making it both “citable” and relevant for our future.
In the midst of our current crises, truly treacherous moments, we (post)moderns may actually grasp the past in greater fullness as it “flashes up in a moment of danger” (p. 694, trans. Eiland & Jennings, Thesis III). “For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably” (p. 695, Thesis V); such as the present fails to recognize Indigenous peoples present and past—they are of no concern for current socio-cultural and economic trajectories and this lack of recognition in the present threatens their disappearance.
These flashes of memory threaten to disappear when the present does not recognize itself in this moment of remembrance, when its difference cannot absorb the flash, when it dissociates because the flash points beyond the fictional line-up of victorious progress. Benjamin describes how these flashes of memory are triggered by crises and imminent dangers.
We can no longer claim the innocence of a distanced observer, but I have to acknowledge that my practice of creating facts makes and renews worlds.
Benjamin talks about “flashing up” and seizing “hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger” (p. 695, Thesis V)—an evocation of the power and urgency of the moment—as something seemingly spontaneous and involuntary, lightning flashes as warning lights to remember. However, indigenous rituals inducing integrative states of consciousness (through ritual storytelling, chant, song, dance, fasting, or prayer) are among the tools to catalyze and invite such flashing up, such depth of clarity, connection, insight, and remembrance.
Benjamin’s theses suggest that hope emerges only once we leave linear notions of history and its pressures to create unitary stories conforming to the ideologies of victors. Lightning flashes open vistas beyond the illusory and deceptive nature of the continuum of history, illuminations for the sake of liberation and visionary sovereignty. Any potential future now begins to make an appearance in different costume. Benjamin states that only those concerned with history and who are inspired by redemptive visions flashing up have the “gift of fanning the spark of hope” (p. 695, Thesis VI). The orientation should be down the line of descendants as image of “liberated grandchildren” (p. 700, Thesis XII).
Barad (2017), in an extensive meditative inquiry, has interpreted Benjamin’s discussion of history within her framework of agential realism and quantum field theory, a dialogue with his Theses (originally published posthumously in 1942) and Judith Butler’s (2012, 2016) discussion of Benjamin’s final major work.
Indigenous science is the twin of quantum field theory.
Both relativity and quantum theories have undone the prevailing assumptions about reality. The Newtonian worldview—that “equipped with unlimited calculating powers and given complete knowledge of the dispositions of all particles at some instant of time, [we] could use Newton’s equations to predict the future, and to retrodict with equal certainty the past, of the whole universe … [a] rather chilling mechanistic claim” (Polkinghorne, 2002, p. 1)—is in shambles, yet its power in the field of psychology and other disciplines continues undiminished. This is surprising given that these quantum scientific developments have their origins one hundred years ago or so.
Relativity and quantum theories have shown that reality is a field of interactions (or better: intra-actions) where entities or things are nothing but nodes in a web. The properties of these entities only become determinate once there is an intra-action. Entities exist only in relation to something else, not independently. “Everything is what it is only in respect to something else” (Rovelli, 2021, p. 199).
The assumed solidity of the world has disappeared. Our notion of time has been shown to be illusory: there is no singularity (time has a different rhythm in different places), no direction (no flow from past to future, continuity is contingent on our perspective), no independence (spacetime is embedded in the gravitational field), no present (“our present” is our bubble and does not extend throughout the universe), and no continuity (time is granular and discontinuous)—and yet: we live in a web of events.
“The events of the world do not form an orderly queue, like the English. They crowd around chaotically, like Italians. They are events, indeed: change, happening. This happening is diffuse, scattered, disorderly” (Rovelli, 2018, p. 96).
So time has been deconstructed: there is no single time; depending on where you are time passes differently; there is no universal time; time has no directionality, past and future are not part of the elementary equations of the world; the notion of a present no longer works. Instead of certainty we have probability. Reality is no longer what scientists were so certain it is, yet Newtonian assumptions continue to hold sway.
The assumptions of “orthodox, Western psychology,” for example, continue to govern the content of mainstream psychology textbooks (see Tart’s (1975) inventory of these assumptions that continues to be useful and pertinent). Of course, different quantum theories offer different interpretations, none of them as of now answering all the mysteries of quantum mechanics, yet some more persuasive than others.
Quantum field theory is the moment in Western science that allows it to encounter its twin Indigenous science anew and to bring its accomplishments into a healing context as flashes of remembrance allow what was to become what it could be.
Ontology, epistemology, and ethics are understood as inseparable. Knowing is a sociocultural and naturalcultural practice in which the knower is inevitably a part of culture and nature. “Making knowledge is not simply about making facts but about making worlds” and “objectivity is about being accountable to the specific materializations of which we are a part” (p. 91).
The ethical imperative of knowing practices then is accountability for how we (post)moderns are making our worlds. We can no longer claim the innocence of a distanced observer, but I have to acknowledge that my practice of creating facts makes and renews worlds. Instead of mirrored facts and “things” we now have phenomena, the results of specific intra-actions; phenomena, literally “appearances,” do not exist prior to these intra-actions; reality is indeterminate until intra-actions create determinacies or phenomena (Bohr, 1958, p. 64).
Barad’s interpretation of quantum field theory questions identity at any level and seems to leave us (post)moderns with a basket full of conundrums that ultimately constitute obligations for engagement with the world, an intimacy in which two agents are not distinct and separate in interactions, but are intimately constituted in intra-actions: “Quantum—an originary dis/continuity, not in space through time, but in the iterative intra-active constitution/reconfiguring of spacetime(mattering). Dis/continuity—neither continuity nor discontinuity but rather cutting together-apart (one move). Intra-actions cut togetherness apart, differentiate-entangle. Intra-action, no interaction. Causality reworked: cause does not precede effect, no subject/object; “subject” and “object,” “cause” and “effect” are mutually constituted in and through intra-actions in “a ‘holding together’ of the disparate itself” (2017, p. 44).
This perspective deletes any notions of a separate observer or researcher, instead my presence in the world mutually constitutes the world I am inevitably a part of—I am intimately connected in an ongoing intra-active process in which distinctions and differentiations are created, in which separation and togetherness exist in intimate simultaneity. When I make a distinction (paying attention to the tree I see or asking a research participant a question), I make a perceptual and material/embodied cut, I make a distinction while, at the same time, being an inevitable part of the constitution or materialization of the tree or the answer of my research participant.
It is important here to note that “quantum phenomena are not restricted to some alleged “micro” domain” (Barad, 2015, p. 419), “quantum mechanics is the most successful and accurate theory in the history of physics, accounting for phenomena over a range of twenty-five orders of magnitude, from the smallest particles of matter to large-scale objects” (2007, p. 110). It is “a common misconception … that quantum considerations apply only to the micro world” (pp. 109-110).
Rovelli (2021, p. 110) summarizes the relationship between Newtonian and quantum physics as follows: “Quantum theory incorporates classical mechanics and our usual vision of the world—as approximations … The solidity of the classical vision of the world is nothing other than our own myopia. The certainties of classical physics are just probabilities. The well-defined and solid picture of the world given by the old physics is an illusion.”
Indigenous science is the twin of quantum field theory. As described by Native scientists (Colorado, 1988, 1994; Bronson, 2004; Cajete, 2016), scientists always are part of the research process as they engage with the alive intelligence of nature; space and time are collapsed as past and present interweave; Indigenous science focuses on relationships with the goal of balance, i.e., normalcy. These notions of research, human beings, and nature are entirely compatible with quantum field theory. The twinship of Indigenous science and quantum theories is apparent when looking at the structure of Indigenous languages and the record of Indigenous storied inquiries and ceremonial proceedings (see Kremer 1996, 1997; see also Jaenke’s article in this issue).
Barad, using quantum field theory, describes a sense of time that is multi-layered, that has richness and thickness; this is a description of time akin to Indigenous understandings. She blasts open the prevailing understanding of linear time as notions of solidity and identity are deconstructed and multiplicity, alterity, and potential become foundational: “Quantum field theory radically deconstructs the ontology of classical physics … Even the smallest bits of matter are an unfathomable multitude. Each “individual” always already includes all possible intra-actions with “itself” through all possible virtual others, including those (and itself) that are noncontemporaneous with itself. That is, every finite being is always already threaded through with an infinite alterity diffracted through being and time. In/determinacy is an un/doing of identity that unsettles the very foundations of non/being” (2015, p. 401).
The emergence of identity, of phenomena, now is understood as a radically different process that disrupts established lines of causality and linearity, that disturbs the established stories of history and scientific knowledge. The flatness or one-dimensionality of linear, empty time expands into thick layers of time, mutual causalities, and entanglements.
Quantum theory reminds us of the realities of the thick now, also integral to Indigenous understandings of time and reality. “Temporal diffraction would be a really rich way to think of Benjamin’s notion of Jetztzeit, or now-time. Jetztzeit is a crystallization of times, of multiple temporalities, blasted out of the continuum of history: a superposition of times—moments from the past—existing in the thick-now of the present moment. And in fact, according to quantum physics the past is always open and can be reconfigured, but never in a way that loses track (i.e., erases the trace) of all that has happened … a reconfiguring of time (spacetimemattering) itself” (2017, p. 33).
This reconfiguration is a moment of healing the split of the original trauma in Eurocentered histories; dissociative practices, the norm in modernity/coloniality, are material practices that lack accountability and enforce interactions leading to hallucinatory visions of reality called “facts.”
Quantum field theory is the moment in Western science that allows it to encounter its twin Indigenous science anew and to bring its accomplishments into a healing context as flashes of remembrance allow what was to become what it could be.
Remembrance of indigenous presence brings the past into the present so that it may become what it might have been.
Lightning occurs in ways different from the linear causality naked eye observations suggest. Closer analysis shows that lightning does not simply proceed from cloud to earth in a single direction. Instead, the electrical stepped ladder charges precede lightning as they gesture downward until close to the striking point. This then sends a spark cloudward which leads to the completion with visible lightning.
There is a seeming awareness at the center of this quantum communication in which sender and receiver relate to each other in a nonlocal fashion. “Lightning flashes have no truck with traditional conceptions of causality or a unilinear progressive notion of temporality. An arcing dis/juncture, lightning is a connective thread, a luminous entanglement … an intra-action through which “this” and “that,” “here” and “there,” “now” and “then” are formed. Lightning is a jagged dis/continuous “moving toward” with innumerable interruptions” (Barad, 2017, p. 36).
Remembrance and sedimentations of time
Understanding history then as flashes of memory, as Benjamin does and, as I would contend, Indigenous peoples do, means the entanglement of past and present.
“The past remains open to what it might have been: ‘What has been is to become’” (Barad, 2017, p. 36). In these flashes of remembrance the past may coincide with the present to such an extent that it comes-to-present, that it becomes recognizable (and citable, as Benjamin would have it). “There exists not-yet-conscious knowledge of the past that has the structure of an awakening when retrieved” (Benjamin, 1982, p. 491, fragment K 1,2 transl. from Benjamin, 1999).
Applying this understanding to remembrances of indigenous presence buried under the linearity of Eurocentrism, to the constellation of tree, well, the three women and men, and their animal relations, helps us (post)moderns recognize it as flash of awakening. It brings the past into the present so that it may become what it might have been—European Indigenous remembrance for the future.
This is the revolutionary potential, the remembrance of an indigenous science and praxis of presence, the remembrance of visionary sovereignty flashing up in the present dangerous moment. The constellation around the tree now is no longer an asphyxiated memory dissected in folklore seminars or celebrated in romantic fantasies; instead it awakens as the “red pill” of coming-to-presence presence (the potentially un/settling truths triggered by the red pill in the movie The Matrix, instead of the contented ignorance the blue pill offers).
The trauma of normative dissociation at the root of modernity/coloniality is part of the creation of empty time and linear causality.
Similarly, the work (inquiry, research, and ritual practice) of recovery of indigenous mind, the remembrance of visionary sovereignty, the engagement with decolonial practices, is a material intervention into the making of time and history; it is not merely a process in mind or consciousness, no longer a fantasy or fantastical image. It never is merely psychological. Recovery of indigenous mind ritually re/constitutes our mind/matter intra-actions.
Quantum field theory, in Barad’s interpretation, deconstructs time’s homogeneity and emptiness, thus allowing for, among other things, temporal discontinuity, temporal diffraction, temporal entanglements and the condensation of time into an instant. “The past is not left behind, but rather, is diffracted through/in Jetztzeit, the now-time of the present moment” (2017, p. 37). For Benjamin the images flashing up are “offering the historical materialist a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past” (Barad, 2017, p. 37).
Remembrance creates wholeness and the possibility of a different world.
Butler (2012) discusses Benjamin’s notion of remembrance, which “functions in an inverse relation to the progressive history he explicitly criticizes … remembrance works against history, undoes its seamless continuity” (p. 102, emphasis added).
The contrast of the work of remembrance is with historical images lined up, forged into a cohesive march forward; this is a line-up in which indigeneity has been destroyed or, what Indigenous presence continues to assert itself, should have been destroyed.
Recovery reaches into the material folds of history, it is the recovery of sedimentations in service of the oppressed, in the service of healing self-colonization.
The recovery of indigenous presence in European traditions then involves not only flashes of balance, but “a memory of suffering from another time, it is not exactly one’s own memory; indeed, such a memory belongs to no one, cannot be understood as anyone’s cognitive possession; it is circulating, shattered, lodged in present time; it seems to be a memory carried by things, or the very principle of their breaking up into pieces, perhaps in the form of part-objects, partially animated and partially inorganic and strangely divine; something flashes up from this nonconceptualizable amalgam, something that is decidedly not substance: light and shape, sudden, but also, oddly, chips exploding and lodging and flashing up” (Butler, 2012, p. 106).
The three women reach into the source of re/generation and memory and catalyze becoming (Verðandi) from exigent obligations (Skuld) as dark and light memory (Urðr) is re/collected. Part of what flashes up may be Hitler’s genocidal distortions, colonial expeditions, witch hunts, Viking raids, missionization, crusades, lynchings, the ships of the Middle Passage, massacres, and more.
The recent physical recovery of pupils’ graves at Canadian residential schools catalyzes flashes of remembrance that disrupt the story of “Canada” with Indigenous presence and suffering. Part of what flashes up may be rituals of balancing and healing that have been in hiding, stories that awaken to be re-told.
Benjamin asserts that “the true measure of life is remembrance” (from Butler, 2012, p. 111). Remembrance engages us (post)moderns with our collective shadows, the denied parts of history, with storytelling of suffering and listening to voices that need to be heard. Flashing up is not a mere flat image, it is a constellation that emerges from presence and performative practices with the potential to heal through the depths of remembrance in the thick now of indigenous presence. Remembrance creates wholeness and the possibility of a different world.
Quantum field theory affords modernity a turn from its addictive path where quantum theory and Indigenous science can meet in the thick now to actualize what the past can be in the future.
This provides the possibility of recovery of indigenous mind. Recovery, conceived as intra-active mind/matter endeavor, reaches into the material folds of history, it is the recovery of sedimentations in service of the oppressed, in the service of healing self-colonization. The constellation of tree and well with its presences is an image in nature.
Benjamin writes that “nature is Messianic by reason of its eternal and total passing away [Verhängnis]” (from Butler, 2016, p. 277). The constellation of hope and passion for cultural healing and redemption is in and of nature. Flashing up is an invocation for a remembrance of the suffering that the denial of indigenous roots in European traditions has caused, a suffering that has been exported as genocide of Indigenous peoples the world over.
Flashing up are also the images and sounds in caves, the communal tree with its six presences, standing stones, and rock carvings, the old ceremonies of seiðr, útiseta, blót, and others—images of balancing in a world of gift exchanges and multi-layered time.
Flashes of remembrance constellating memories of suffering and the potential for healing recovery imposes obligations and responsibilities. Knowing and being in a paradigm of normative dissociation, a mechanistic universe, enabled colonial endeavors, witch hunts, racist science, and other lethal misadventures. These are manifestations of disconnections and othering.
By contrast: “Quantum entanglements are not intertwinings of separate entities, but rather irreducible relations of responsibility. There is no fixed dividing line between ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘past’ and ‘present’ and ‘future’, ‘here’ and ‘now’, ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ … Entanglements are not a name for the interconnectedness of all being as one, but rather specific material relations of the ongoing differentiating of the world. Entanglements are relations of obligation—being bound to the other—enfolded traces of othering. Othering, the constitution of an ‘Other’ entails an indebtedness to the ‘Other’, who is irreducibly and materially bound to, threaded through, the ‘self’—a diffraction/dispersion of identity. ‘Otherness’ is an entangled relation of difference (différance). Ethicality entails noncoincidence with oneself” (pp. 48-49; italics added).
The scientific practices of normative dissociation have left these relations of responsibility behind and fail to see their work of inquiry as relations of obligation; representing or mirroring “reality” obviates any sense of indebtedness to the ‘other,’ the interaction of two separate entities frees scientists from the accountability that bonds of intra-action obligate us to. This escape from responsibility enabled the (de)tour of modernity with its wonders and maladies. Quantum field theory affords modernity a turn from its addictive path where quantum theory and Indigenous science can meet in the thick now to actualize what the past can be in the future.
The work of recovery of indigenous mind (and continuing affirmation of visionary sovereignty of decolonial communities) means “taking responsibility to rework the past in the present (which is not the same as denying the past, but on the contrary, of being present to it on behalf of the oppressed and their erased histories)” (Barad, 2017, pp. 63-64). Vizenor’s (2020) Satie on the Seine is an example of an artistic evocation of flashes of remembrance bringing the past into a healing present which addresses Native American genocide and the Shoah. The novel is the writing of a thick now in which the transformative potential of remembrance is made present through wild imaginings.
Quantum field theory, together with Walter Benjamin’s conceptualization of history, has allowed us (post)moderns to understand the work of the recovery of indigenous mind beyond any romantic yearnings: Rather, it is living the responsibility to heal what has been oppressed and denied, the original trauma, the beginning of normative dissociation, the shift from a multilayered sense of visionary sovereignty and presence into the restraints of linear clock time, the linearity of time, history, and memory.
The image of well and tree with its six presences—time moving and bursting with flashes of memory and presence—evokes a process of mutual causality as memories of multilayered Indigenous time flash up and create lightning, helping us to connect with the presence of the sedimentations of time.
I have heard Natives talk about echoes across time that can be embodied, a process of mutual causality between ancestors and people living now.
Embodying the image of the tree of life is an act of balancing as memory, obligation, and unfolding create presence in a nurturing conversation, the gifting of humans to humans, the gifting of humans to nature, to more-than-humans, the gifting of nature to humans in a natural motion of visionary sovereignty. The image of the six around the ancestral well catalyzes a precarious tightrope walk and intricate dance, forever incomplete, yet complete in the visionary self humbly offering and dedicating themselves to the process of balancing. It is the natural motion between mind and matter that is captured in the imaginal presence of the tree. We humans live in a world of phenomena where both science and ritual action can hone our presence and perceptual skills.
In my role as inquirer, teacher, and ceremonialist, one of my obligations is a coming-to-presence at my place of hope at the well under the tree. It is the flash of remembrance, the flash of stepping out of the linear restraints of time into the appearance, the phenomenon of the tree, the three women at source, the three men, and the animals around and about it. It is a shift in my intra-actions of mind and matter, of consciousness and body that facilitates embodied encounters beyond the masterful and thickly boundaried individualistic self.
Remembrance requires commitment to initiation, to enter the dark passages of painful memories, and to confront death for the sake of our present evolutionary challenge.
To enter this space is a tall order, for sure, whether for me with my Northern European ancestries or somebody with different ancestries. It requires commitment to initiation, to enter the dark passages of painful memories, and to confront death for the sake of our present evolutionary challenge. And to find the heart, the courage, to embody knowledge ceremonially.
On Maui there is an old story of Owl Woman Manuakepa (“Bird which Snatches”). This is a published story (Anderson, 2016), but it flashes up now as memory and presence as the portals of sacred places on Maui and elsewhere facilitate re/connections with Indigenous mind.
The spirit of Owl Woman guided a journey that led to the embodiment of presence with soul, of presence woven into place through conversation with all relations.
The setting of the story is the West Coast of Maui outside of what is now Lahaina. Its context is a world where the nurturing and balancing relationship with place, humans, and other-and-more-than-humans is guided by the ancient Hawaiian origin story, the Kumulipo. The villagers conducted their everyday and ceremonial activities governed by these original instructions.
The outline of the story of Owl Woman is as follows: Invading warriors arrive in their canoes on the beach at the village of Kapunakea (White Spring). The villagers prepare to greet the strangers in their traditional way, but instead of the expected ritual exchange of greetings they are attacked and captured. The invaders then rededicate the temple of Owl Woman above the village, the Heiau Haluluko’ako’a, to the war god Ku and the first slain villager is ritually laid at the altar. They then scour the village Kapunakea for food and water and the invaders make plans for the next day to sacrifice the captives who have survived the attack.
The initiatory encounter with death is outside of the tuition payment for a workshop in shamanic experience.
As they walk, their backwards tracks are recorded in the lava ash. Their escape route then leads them into an underworld journey through a lava tube ending in an encounter with Moemoe, the god of long sleep or death.
At this point Owl Woman leaves the freed captives to confront death on their own, an inevitable encounter on any journey of initiation (in any true initiation the outcome is uncertain). Moemoe’s cave opens into the ocean and, after their confrontation with death, the freed captives have to make their way through the waters to get to the village of Kahapuloa, their new place of ongoing ritual engagement with the sacred. They are able to reach this special place only in consequence of their initiation. Their embodiment of visionary sovereignty has been asserted, strengthened, and renewed.
Meanwhile Owl Woman returns to her village and demands that the invaders leave, but the warrior chiefs threaten her by stating that they would take her as a prize. Manuakepa then raises her arms and begins to chant thunderously, whereupon owls appear from all directions and attack the invaders. The chiefs and the warrior priest escape in a canoe, but it sinks just beyond the reef.
Owl Woman Manuakepa, a fierce feminine archetypal force, took the freed villagers on an initiatory journey, a life and death confrontation catalyzed by the warrior invaders, the disruption of ritual time, an event beyond their control. This is not a journey the villagers intended, it was not their choice, they were at the effect of the force of circumstance.
The spirit of Manuakepa had been part of the villagers’ life and she had been honored at the temple, the Heiau Haluluko’ako’a; she guided the journey, which was not a journey of mere survival, but a journey that led to the embodiment of presence with soul, of presence woven into place through conversation with all relations.
The encounter with the impersonal forces of the primordial realms facilitates lives lived in community in the presence of archetypal spiritual forces.
It is important to note that Manuakepa leaves at this point, the completion of the initiation, the final steps, now put in the hands of each villager; they needed to rise to their initiatory challenge, they needed to complete without assistance.
After the confrontation with choice, with deep sleep and death, the survivors were then able to enter the village of Kahapuloa to embody in ritual and daily life the traditional teachings emerging from the Hawaiian origin story, thus making the village sacred through their committed intra-actions guided by their original instructions. The life of balancing has been reestablished and, presumably, intensified as a consequence of the confrontation with the darkness of the warrior culture, the destructive force of an invading culture.
The encounter with the archetypal warrior god Ku and his representatives can be interpreted, in our current historical moment, as confrontation with the dissociative paradigm of modernity/coloniality, a paradigm which makes war on Indigenous science, practices of coming-to-presence, and soul or spirit connection.
Jung, whose psychology in many ways struggles with Indigenous coming-to-presence from a Eurocentered perspective via alchemy and gnosticism, recognized the importance of historical roots and ancient cultural origins. He takes Odysseus’ nekyia (Book 11), his descent into the underworld and his encounters with the spirits of the dead, as exemplary in his writings.
Are we (post)moderns willing to commit to the creation of livable communities in which we manifest our obligations and responsibilities to our fellow humans and other-and-more-than humans?
It is difficult to overestimate the seriousness and severity of such primordial experiences where the outcome is far from assured. The initiatory encounter with death is outside of the tuition payment for a workshop in shamanic experience and initiation.
Jung’s discussions of primordial experience acknowledge their overwhelming quality. In fact, he talks about it as a “deep place like the crater of a volcano. My deep interior is a volcano, that pushes out the fiery-molten mass of the unformed and the undifferentiated … He who enters the crater also becomes chaotic matter, he melts … The formed in him dissolves and binds itself anew with the children of chaos, the powers of darkness, the ruling and the seducing, the compelling and the alluring, the divine and the devilish. These powers stretch beyond my certainties and limits on all sides, and connect me with all forms and with all distant beings and things, through which inner tidings of their being and their character develop in me” (Jung, 2009, p. 247)
The initiatory encounter with Moemoe is an encounter with primordial beginnings, forging connections with “what has been and what is becoming … a part of matter and formation of the world” (p. 247). It is a profound engagement with the formative powers of reality, the process in which everything is moving, everything is an interrelated event. Time drops out of the equation, indeed, as conceptual husks are discarded and renewed; time is at a standstill as the thick now gets constellated afresh with consequences beyond the ritual encounter.
Jung (1966) comments that “the primordial experience … is so dark and amorphous that it requires the related mythological imagery to give it form. In itself it is wordless and imageless … It is nothing but a tremendous intuition striving for expression. It is like a whirlwind that seizes everything within reach and assumes visible form as it swirls upward” (pp. 96-97, para 151).
Indeed, on this initiatory material psycho-spiritual level we have dis/continuity and intra-actions cut togetherness/apart, differentiate and entangle, we have subject and object, cause and effect mutually constituted. In the face of death, Moemoe, assumptions are broken and renewed, disparateness and togetherness are part of the conundrum of the underworld journey in the lava tube.
Owl Woman Manuakepa is a familiar spirit to the villagers, the “mythological imagery” ritually encountered at the Heiau Haluluko’ako’a, the temple, and she manifests as psychopomp to guide the underworld journey into the “dark and amorphous” primordial experience of the villagers. The confrontation and challenge to commitment manifests as Moemoe, the god of deep sleep and death. The villagers not only survive this encounter with the paradoxes of darkness, the light in the dark, something which is beyond the personal, but they succeed in integrating this overwhelming encounter with impersonal forces by giving it visible form in their new village life. They have been seized by forces powerful beyond anything their personal power could control, and they bring it into the light of ceremonial practices, the labors of balancing and re-balancing.
Two points are worth reiterating: The first is that this is a communal experience. It begins with the destruction of village life and ends with renewed communal life in a different location. While each villager inevitably has to resolve their own confrontation with Moemoe as individual, the result is collective. The encounter with the impersonal forces of the primordial realms facilitates lives lived in community in the presence of archetypal spiritual forces, the external manifestation of internal initiations.
The second additional point worth emphasizing is this: Once Manuakepa has guided the villagers to Moemoe’s cave, she departs. So far Owl Woman has taken charge of the lives of the villagers, but now that they are in the face of death, in the depths of primordial darkness, smelting into the experience of impersonal forces, they need to take charge themselves.
One can find a parallel in Silko’s novel Ceremony, when the protagonist Tayo who suffers from “the witchery of the swirling darkness” (Wyman, 1973) which, in this particular case, manifests as posttraumatic stress injury, is led in a healing ceremony by the medicine man Betonie. At a certain point Old Betonie states: “It’s up to you. Don’t let [the forces of the witchery] stop you. Don’t let them finish off this world” (p. 152). The villagers are initiated not just to survive, but stop the forces of the invading warriors, just as Tayo stops the witchery of the swirling darkness, the deadly virus of progress as Silko describes it at the center of the novel.
Coming-to-presence at my place of hope
The stark choice presented to the villagers by Moemoe is the same our contemporary crises present us (post)moderns with. Are we (post)moderns willing to commit to the creation of livable communities in which we manifest our obligations and responsibilities to our fellow humans and other-and-more-than humans? In which we allow flashes of remembrance to constellate our healing coming-to-presence?
And what does this mean for me as settler on unceded Pomo-Miwok and Wappo lands, as part of a violent history of settlement that has yet to end? How do I hold the ancestral image of tree and well, part of my creation stories and original instructions, on land where my ancestors did not reside before me?
We can come-to-presence of the weaving of intra-actions, movements of nurturing and being nurtured where all the components of what constitutes reality and evokes reality are not givens, but parts of an intra-active conversation creating presence.
I was called upon to start and immediately felt quite exposed since I was the only White person in the round. To be the first to introduce myself kicked up instant fear in me. I took the risk of introducing myself with the complexities of my cultural origins—as a river person, with my grandmother’s and other family names; the places of my ancestral lines reaching from my birthplace around the Baltic Sea on my mother’s side and down the Rhine Valley into the Alsace-Lorraine on my father’s; I acknowledged the tribal peoples by the River Elbe where I grew up with the oldest names I knew. Once I had stood by my ancestry publicly something unexpected happened.
Having spoken my fear subsides, but I remain in a state of heightened attention. Then I notice two things coming together inside. My awareness settles into my body with startling comfort as ribcage and ribcage join. Out of the shift arises comfort, not merely the cessation of anxiety. A novel sensation spreads. My physical being and who I think I am merge and meld into a new form of congruence. Somatic consonance. The reunion of fragments. It is a homecoming. This is the label I attach to the joining of story and story. Homecoming. The dizzying interior space of one ribcage encounters reassurance in the vertiginous riches the other offers. Homecoming. An insufficient word for sure, romantic. Homecoming as process, being at home in an unfolding process of conversation. This homecoming is also shocking, since I have never been there. Yet no other word describes my feeling of coming-to-presence more accurately.
The ritual I was part of is what allowed me to make home, what helped me heal my shame of German history, the Shoah, witch hunts, and violent patriarchal distortions. It helped me confront the history of California missions and the innumerable massacres of Native peoples throughout the state.
I have fasted for the tree and for raven messenger, I have made offerings on sites of concentration camps and massacres. I now stand un/comfortably, with some confidence and some shame, at the dangerous intersection of remembrance of my own ancestral roots, the acknowledgment of the Native peoples where I live, and the possibilities of personal and cultural meeting in a balancing process. Standing at my ancestral place I hope to increase my capacities to hold the innumerable conundrums discussed, to dwell in hope when hopelessness appears.
The image of the tree evokes a sense of self and collectivity that is heterogeneous and includes humans, non-humans, and other-than-humans or more-than-humans. It is an image beyond and outside the Anthropocene, an image for the post-human world. The image and the movement of mind, matter, and time it evokes, is non-anthropocentric.
The aurr lifted by the three women from the well then becomes obligatory remembrance which inspired reasoning can chance to embody.
The aurr lifted by the three women from the well then becomes obligatory remembrance which inspired reasoning can chance to embody.
Apffel-Marglin (2011) describes ceremonies or rituals as “actions that create continuity in the sense of weaving or reweaving livable common worlds” (p. 163). It is a weaving to create and regenerate livable worlds that in their origins are connected with specific ecologies and histories. Ritual or ceremonial action in whatever form is designed “to synchronize the awareness of different participants—humans, non-humans, and other-than-humans—enabling them to weave each other into a continuous world, a regenerated world” (p. 164).
This is a worldview and performative practice that supersedes the modern worldview in which the observer and the observed, facts and values, ethics and praxis are neatly separated. Instead we can come-to-presence of the weaving of intra-actions, movements of nurturing and being nurtured, criar y dejarse criar, where all the components of what constitutes reality and evokes reality are not givens, but parts of an intra-active conversation creating presence.
The tree and the well, the three women—Verðandi, the Woman of Becoming, Skuld, the Woman of Obligation arising from sedimentation, and Urðr, the Woman of Remembrance—and the three men—Oðr, holding intention and inspiration, Hœnir, holding the process of reasoning and the mysteries of silence, and Loki holding chance and indeterminacy—together with the animals about the tree and the bridge leading from the top of the tree into other worlds as the roots of the tree open to primordial experiences—these are images from my ancestral communal universe.
These origin and creation stories “are the most important accounts any society can tell itself about itself” (Nabokov, 2015, p. IX). They constitute original instructions, “sacredly revealed, repositories of ultimate truths, and arbiters of existential questions.” They are humanly, creatively created connections between worlds that need to be maintained through ritual participation. They emerge from a profound intimacy with the surrounding world, the local ecology. They have the powers of re/generation and healing.
Our present collective pathologies may find healing remedies in the rub between personal dreaming and visionary experiences, between ancestral stories of place and migrations, and between practices committed to resolving personal and collective shadow and traumas into creative and imaginative presences that heal.
My “homecoming ceremony” shifted my conversations with Indigenous acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. Stories shared became part of an egalitarian knowledge trade in initiatory encounters.
Standing atop one of the Pueblo katsina mountains, I shared my ancestral image with the Acoma Antelope Priest I encountered on his pilgrimage to make offerings to the spirits. I shared it with a Patwin medicine man in the Central Valley of California. In these and other situations the conversation shifted from the uneasy rub between Indigenous and modern/colonial paradigms to a shared space of mutual recognition through ancestral imagery. These conversations were initiatory conversations for me, conversations in which I surely was the much younger brother.
Flashes of memory, whether in dreams, during inquiry, or as a result of ceremony, connect our emotional and rational brain parts in this labor of remembering and presencing. Together with the riches of traditions and ceremonial or ritual practices they facilitate bridging, afford opportunities for a re-inspiriting of indigenous understandings or original instructions of humans living in a particular place.
Such re-inspirations honor traditions, those of local provenance and those that have migrated into a place, by confronting not just needs for personal healing, but collective shadow material, thus renewing traditions in wild (as in: connected to wilderness or nature), creative inspirations and imaginings that re-member and en-vision the future using our “natural reason,” i.e., “an active sense of presence, the tease of the natural world in native stories” (Vizenor, 2003).
Our present collective pathologies—as manifest in individuals, communities, and ecologies—may find healing remedies in the rub between personal dreaming and visionary experiences, between ancestral stories of place and migrations, and between practices committed to resolving personal and collective shadow and traumas into creative and imaginative presences that heal. Such work addresses historical violations not for the sake of revenge but the healing of a restorative justice for the future. This means bridging our dreams and ancestral stories into the history of place. For its success such a practice can never be merely individualistic, but it needs to welcome, invite, and strive for communal dialogue and conversation (a dialogue between multiple communities in one place).
Thus traditions may be renewed and grounded in deep dreaming with ancestors and memory of place. Such practice supersedes scientism and religious or spiritual fundamentalisms by bringing the indigenous science contained in each tradition into a life that honors the spirit of inquiry for the sake of human freedom and creativity.
Our initiatory and evolutionary challenge is to bring the parts which modernity/coloniality mistakenly thought could be safely left behind, forward into full presence. The twins Indigenous science and quantum field theory can help us correct pathological thinking as the smooth linearity of time progressing is exploded by flashes of remembrance constellating a depth of presence and obligation to life largely forgotten by non-indigenous people.
Moemoe, the god of deep sleep and death is staring in our face. And in this, there is hope.
The boy, his back leaning against the well under the tree, he stretches his bow and aims into the chasm that circumscribes his presence. The arrow carries his wondering, unknowing incised in his flesh.
- (i) Vizenor (1998) describes visionary sovereignty as follows: “The sovereignty of motion is mythic, material, and visionary, not mere territoriality, in the sense of colonialism and nationalism” (p. 183). “Sovereignty as motion and transmotion is heard and seen in oral presentations, the pleasures of native memories and stories, and understood in the values of human and spiritual motion in languages … The sovereignty of motion means the ability and the vision to move in imagination and the substantive rights of motion in native communities” (p. 182).
- (ii) Bloch was not appreciated by the fundamentalist orthodoxies perpetrated behind the Iron Curtain, his discussion of spiritual traditions was not appreciated. He ultimately had to leave the GDR, where he had voluntarily settled after World War Two, and live in West Germany.
- (iii) Gratitude to Leny Strobel for conversations that facilitated my insights.
- (iv) In my first attempts to conceptualize this framework as participatory or shamanic concourse (Kremer, 1992) this was not the case and, although the general idea still holds, it was rather incomplete. Let me begin by tracking my inquiry and quest here in broad brushstrokes.
- (v) For extensive references that form the basis of my description here, please see Bjarnadóttir & Kremer, 1998/99.
- (vi) In other traditions, the Lighting of the Seventh Fire, or the end of the Mayan calendar identify similar challenges and opportunities.
- (vii) Marvel’s (2021) television series Loki can be interpreted as the struggle between the modern colonial control of the timeline by the “Time Variance Authority” to prevent the threats of time variants.
- (viii) Vizenor (1998, p. 15) describes “transmotion” as follows: “The connotations of transmotion are creation stories, tometic visions, reincarnation, and sovenance; transmotion, that sense of native motion and an active presence, is sui generis sovereignty.”
- (ix) This section leans heavily on Barad’s (2017) discussion of time, incl. her use of Walter Benjamin’s theses on history (1974) and Butler’s (2012) discussion of Benjamin’s Messianic politics. Rovelli’s (e.g., 2016, 2018, 2021) interpretation of quantum theory have also been helpful.
- (x) This and the subsequent were catalyzed by Karen Barad’s What Flashes Up: Theological-Political-Scientific Fragments (2017), I gratefully acknowledge this source of inspiration.
- (xi) Unless otherwise noted, all translations of the Theses are by Harry Zohn.
- (xii) I am indebted to Apela Colorado for sharing unpublished material of her work in progress.
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