Friday, January 23, 2015


That’s the universal question many mixed-blood American Indians are asked every day. How many times have you mentioned in passing that you are Cherokee to find your conversation interrupted by intrusive questions about percentage? How many times have you answered those questions? Well stop! That’s right — stop answering rude questions.

Have you ever been talking to someone who mentioned that they were part Hispanic, part African-American, part Jewish, part Italian, part Korean, etc.? Have you ever asked them what percentage? Hopefully your answer is no, because if your answer is yes, then you’re rude. It would be rude to ask someone what part Hispanic they are, but we accept that people can ask us what part Cherokee we are. This is a double standard brought about by our collective history as American Indians, and is one we should no longer tolerate.

The history of blood quantum begins with the Indian rolls and is a concept introduced to American Indians by white culture. Throughout early Native history, blood never really played a factor in determining who was or was not included in a tribe. Many American Indian tribes practiced adoption, a process whereby non-tribal members would be adopted into the tribe and over time become fully functioning members of the group. Adoption was occasionally preceded by capture. Many tribes would capture members of neighboring tribes, white settlers, or members of enemy tribes. These captives would replace members of the tribe who had died. They would often be bestowed with some of the same prestige and duties of the person they were replacing. While the transformation from captive to tribal member was often a long and difficult one, the captive would eventually become an accepted member of the tribe. The fact that the adoptee was sometimes of a different ethnic origin was of little importance to the tribe.

It wasn’t until the federal government became involved in Indian government that quantum became an issue. One of the attributes collected on a person signing one of the many Indian rolls was their quantum. However, this was highly subjective as it was simply a question that the roll takers would allow the people to answer for themselves.

In this day and age, however, quantum is heavily relied upon for determining eligibility for tribal recognition. In order to become a registered citizen of any federally recognized Cherokee tribe you must first get a CDIB (Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood). This CDIB is issued by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and simply states that the United States government certifies that you have a specified degree of Indian blood and are eligible to be a member of a given federally recognized tribe. Once you have a CDIB you can become a recognized citizen of that tribe.

In addition, many Indian tribes include their own quantum restrictions for citizenship. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians requires that you be 1/16 or higher to join, and the United Keetowah Band requires a blood quantum of 1/4 or higher. The Cherokee Nation, on the other hand, has no quantum restrictions. The majority of the Cherokee Nation has 1/4 or less Indian blood.

When considering these numbers it is important to remember that the Cherokee were in direct contact with white settlers very early in American history. Many prominent Cherokee families include intermarried whites as far back as the colonial period — prior to the American Revolution. As you can imagine, with over two hundred years of intermarriage, many Cherokee today have some very confusing fractions to spit out every time someone asks, “What part Indian are you?”

But why do we, as tribes or individuals, think that a number is sufficient in proving our Cherokeeness? Blood quantum is just that — a number — a sterile, inhuman way of calculating authenticity. When a person asks, “What part Cherokee are you?” they are trying to quantify your authenticity. If the answer given is a small percentage or an incomprehensible fraction, the answerer’s Cherokeeness is called into question. Why?

We are not Gregor Mendel’s cross-pollinated pea plants; we are people. Our ethnicity and cultural identity is tied to our collective and ancestral history, our upbringing, our involvement with our tribe and community, our experiences, memories and self-identity. To measure our “Indianness” by a number is to completely eliminate the human element. And to allow others to judge us based on that number is to continue a harmful trend.

Next time someone asks you what part Cherokee you are, tell them it’s irrelevant. If you’re braver than me, challenge them by explaining that they are asking a rude question. Because in the end, the answer doesn’t matter. You’re a whole person, not the sum of your “parts.” If any “part” of you is Cherokee, then you are Cherokee. Period.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The following is an excerpt from James Endredy's book Ecoshamanism that I feel points out the differences.

'Neoshamanism most commonly refers to the practices surrounding the revival of interest in shamanism by modern people, spurred on primarily through the hugely popular work of authors such as Mircea Eliade, Carlos Castaneda, and Michael Harner. Core shamanism is at the center of the latest neoshamanic revival; it was created by Michael Harner and is distributed by his Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Classical shamanism most often refers to the practices employed by indigenous tribal shamans, both historic and current. Much of modern-day neoshamanism has gotten so far off the path from classical shamanism, and has become so commercialized, that the easiest way to begin understanding the differences between neoshamanism and classical shamanism is to simply note some of the differences between the two. The biggest distinction is that much of what is labeled as shamanic in our consumer-driven culture...listening to cd's of drumming, watching videos of bizarre body postures, reading shamanic fantasy stories conjured by city dwellers, replacing soul journey with guided imagery techniques, among many others...are not to be found in the practices of any shamanic tribes. Now, I firmly believe and give credit to the work of popular neoshamanic authors and workshop leaders for significantly raising the consciousness of the Western world toward shamanism. But I also know that many people are ready now for a deeper and more authentic encounter with the shamanic world. Another obvious distinction between neoshamanism and classical shamanism can be seen with regard to service. While neoshamanism has at its core the personal and spiritual development of its practitioners, classical shamans endure extreme hardships and dangers in order to fulfill their obligations to the communities that they serve. Unlike the personal growth atmosphere of neoshamanism, where a modern person feels a longing to become a better person and explores shamanic techniques to "find themselves" and so more fully realize their true human potential, classical shamans have a completely different goal; to serve the community."

Much of this is very similar to some whites who practice an imitation of American Indian medicine ways. Some of the tribal Elders have spoken out against those in the white community who conduct sweat lodge ceremonies for profit and feel (rightly so) that it is sacrilegious. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014


The word entheogen is a neologism derived from the ancient Greek. Entheos literally means "god (theos) within", translates as "inspired" and is the root of the English word "enthusiasm". The Greeks used it as a term of praise for poets and other artists. Genesthe means "to generate". So an entheogen is "that which generates God (or godly inspiration) within a person".

The word entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists and scholars of mythology (Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott and R. Gordon Wasson). The literal meaning of the word is "that which causes God to be within an individual". The translation "creating the divine within" is sometimes given, but it should be noted that entheogen implies neither that something is created (as opposed to just perceiving something that is already there) nor that that which is experienced is within the user (as opposed to having independent existence).

It was coined as a replacement for the terms "hallucinogen" (popularized by Aldous Huxley's experiences with mescaline, published as The Doors of Perception in 1953) and "psychedelic" (a Greek neologism for "mind manifest", coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who was quite surprised when the well-known author, Aldous Huxley, volunteered to be a subject in experiments Osmond was running on mescaline). Ruck et al. argued that the term "hallucinogen" was inappropriate due to its etymological relationship to words relating to delirium and insanity. The term "psychedelic" was also seen as problematic, due to the similarity in sound to words pertaining to psychosis and also due to the fact that it had become irreversibly associated with various connotations of 1960s pop culture.

An entheogen, in the strictest sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious or shamanic context. Entheogens generally come from plant sources which contain molecules closely related to endogenous neurochemicals. They occur in a wide variety of sacraments of various religious rites and have been shown to directly provoke what users perceive as spiritual/mystical experiences.

I have used a few entheogens in ceremonial and ritual work, but I'm neither endorsing or condemning their use. They shouldn't be used by anyone unfamiler with how they may affect the body.

Friday, November 8, 2013


I have been asked about books on shamanism that I would recommend. Many of the current books out there on shamanism I am reluctant to recommend. It is not because I feel they are poorly written or do not give the reader accurate information. Many are what I would call pseudo-shamanism. Most are good as spiritual, "New Age", and/or self-help publications, but really do not provide information about traditional shamanism. A number of them seem to be a rehash of Michael Harner's "The Way of the Shaman." Ecoshamanism by James Endredy is a book that I would recommend. This book is more inline with traditional shamanism. Mr. Endredy says; "It is an incredibly sad fact that most of the shamanic cultures of the world, primarily due to their mostly peaceful nature, have not survived into the twenty-first century." I agree wholeheartedly.

Here is a list of books on shamanism that I have read. Some are better than others.
"Where Eagles Fly" Kenneth Meadows
"The Shaman" Piers Vitebsky
"The Way of the Shaman" Michael Harner
"The Hollow Bone, A Field Guide to Shamanism" Colleen Deatsman
"The Shaman's Toolkit" Sandra Ingerman
"Awakening to the Spirit World" Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman
"Shamanism As a Spiritual Practice for Daily Life" Tom Cowan
"Shamans of the World" Nancy Conner with Bradford Keeney PhD
"The Four-Fold Way, Walking the Path of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary" Angeles Arrien PhD  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Concept of Soul Retrieval

In shamanism it is believed that part of the human soul is free to leave the body. The soul is the axis mundi, the center of the shamanic healing arts. Shamans change their state of consciousness allowing their free soul to travel and retrieve ancient wisdom and lost power. Because a portion of the soul is free to leave the body it will do so when dreaming, or it will leave the body to protect itself from potentially damaging situations be they emotional or physical. In situations of trauma the soul piece may not return to the body on its own, and a shaman must intervene and return the soul essence.

Reasons For the Soul's Departure
There are various reasons for soul loss. If a person was in an abusive situation part of one's soul may leave to protect itself from the abuse. Sometimes as a child, fighting parents may prompt the soul part to hide because the child is scared. If a traumatic accident is about to occur such as an impact or accident the soul would leave so that it wouldn't be effected by the force of the accident. If a loved one is lost, the soul part may go until the person is ready to deal with their grief. All of these are very healthy mechanisms of protection. In some cases the soul part will return on its own. But if it does not realize how to return, or if it does not know that it is safe to return - the shaman may need to assist the return of that missing piece.

Another way to lose ones soul is to give it to someone. When two people are in love, or when they are in a family, it is sometimes occurs that they will give portions of their soul to their loved ones. A mother may give some to her child because she wishes to protect him or her. This type of soul exchange may seem acceptable because of a person's desire to share themselves with another, but it is generally not a good idea. An individual can't use another person's soul, because simply: it is not their soul. The person must then deal with this unusable energy in addition to his or her own problems. In addition, the persons who have given a piece of their soul away have disempowered themselves. The giver's journey is made more difficult because they are not fully present to do the living of their life. It is a lose lose situation.

Because we are not taught about soul loss we do this soul sharing unconsciously. As individuals becomes more conscious of this dynamic they can find more empowering ways of sharing love and affection in their close relationships. You can see the language of soul loss in everyday speaking, people referring to how they "lost a piece of themselves" when they parted with a lover, or people saying "you stole my life from me."

Another reason for soul loss is called soul stealing, perhaps we should say borrowing. As we said before, the average person today is unconscious of the soul dynamic. So soul stealing can be innocent, you see someone with lots of energy and you want to borrow some of it. You are afraid of losing someone, so you take a piece of that person with you so that you will always have him or her close by. Soul stealing can also be a way to dominate another. For instance soul stealing may be seen where an abusive spouse has taken his or her partner's soul. When you take someone's soul you take some of that person's power.

It is important to know that no one can take your soul without your consent. If someone has stolen your soul, you have in some sense given it to them or allowed them to have it. If you feel for some reason that someone is tugging at your soul, make a firm decision within yourself that they cannot have it and they will not be able to take it from you.

How Do You know if You need a Soul Retrieval?

Many people know instinctively that they are missing something. They hear about soul retrieval and it makes sense to them, or they have an "Ah ha." moment where they realize that it is something that applies to them. But for those people who aren't so well connected with their intuition, they might not have that awareness. As mentioned above symptoms/indicators of soul loss can include:

-Feelings of depression
-A feeling of being incomplete
-Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSD like symptoms.
-Inability to move past an issue despite efforts to do so.
-Feeling like you've done everything you can do but are still stuck.
-Feeling disconnected from life, like you don't really feel anything, or you feel you can't connect to things.
-Memories or incident in your past when you can say, I feel that I lost something that I never got back.
-A sense that someone took a part of you, your heart, your soul, or that you were not the same once they left you or died.
-You keep wanting to return to a person, or a location that seems unhealthy or unlikely, even though there is no apparent reason for you to do so.
-Lost memories, like a part of your history is "missing"
-The feeling that soul retrieval may help you.

It isn't necessary for you to have an extreme symptom, to indicate soul loss. It is certainly true that some people have experienced benefits even though they were not sure that they had soul loss or not. If you feel this is something you might want to try, that is a good reason to contact a practitioner. They can go on a diagnostic journey to find out if this would be best for you at this time. If you feel that you aren't ready that is an emotion to honor. Sometimes a soul retrieval will bring up issues that need to be healed. If you aren't in a place where you are ready to do that, it may be good for you to wait. The following benefits are possible with soul retrieval, although there is no guarantee what will happen, all soul retrievals are different: -You may find it easier to move forward on an issue that has been troubling you. -You may feel a sense of being more fully present in your life.

You may find it easier to make certain decisions or make certain changes. -You may find that some characteristic you have struggled with such as hopefulness, confidence, anger.. may improve or go away after a soul retrieval. -You may find that you can connect to things more easily.

You may feel more fully present Additionally it is possible for the following challenges to be brought up with a soul retrieval:

You may have feelings of sadness or depression because of the time that went by missing this part of you.

Issues that you have previously been unwilling to deal with can come to the surface. -You may find that you can no longer stay in a situation which you have been living with - such that you find you must make changes in your life. -You may find feelings that you previously did not wish to deal with assert themselves, such as grief or anger. -

You may begin a long healing process. There is no knowing what may happen as the result of a soul retrieval. In a few cases a person may literally experiences a complete turn around of their life to a more joyful way of being.

In some cases it begins a process of changes that take time to fully emerge. And of course some people feel that not much really happened as a result of their soul retrieval. Your instincts should tell you what to do, and the practitioner can help you determine if a soul retrieval would be helpful to you at this time. If you need support after a soul retrieval, your shamanic practitioner may be able to help you. You can also find support from a therapist or a counselor.

 If you feel that you would like a soul retrieval, but have a feeling of fear because it is unknown, you can always contact a practitioner simply discuss soul retrieval or your fears. See how you feel after you have discussed it with him or her, and then decide whether or not you wish to proceed. Finally, a benefit of a soul retrieval or any shamanic healing is seeing that someone cares enough to help you. Most shamanic practitioners feel a strong desire to help make your road a little easier. Some people say that this is the most helpful part of the healing process for them. Good luck with your journey. Remember that whatever you decide, it is often the process of looking for healing that brings healing to you. When we ask the question, what is it I need, what do I need to do next, the act of questioning will often bring a flow of answers into our lives from unexpected sources.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cherokee Medicine People

Cherokee medicine people can be male or female. They believe there are evil medicine people and good ones. In fact, there are many kinds of medicine people in the Cherokee culture. Just as many modern doctors specialize in one area of expertise, so do most natural healers. Most medicine people are really good at curing some things, and don't even try to cure others. And like modern medicine practitioners, there are still a few general practitioners who will try to treat most things, but will refer you to someone else if it's something beyond their personal knowledge.

When something happens outside their realm of understanding, that cannot be explained by the rules of their culture, Cherokee people will say someone has been practicing bad medicine.

The Cherokee believe in witchcraft, but not in the context witches are thought of in anglo cultures. There are two kinds of witches in cherokee culture: ordinary witches and killer witches. Ordinary witches are considered more dangerous since a person can never be sure he is dealing with one, and they are more difficult to detect and counteract. They may deceive a medicine person, and cause them to prescribe the wrong cure if not guarded against. One killer witch who is still spoken of often today, and is mentioned in many Cherokee legends of the Cherokee Nation is the Raven Mocker.

Cherokee medicine men and women study for many years, and learn specific treatments from a written Cherokee syllabary given to them by their mentors. It is forbidden for anyone to look at this book if it isn't theirs, and it is often written in code, or parts are passed on verbally to keep the whole from falling into the wrong hands. Medicine ceremonies which are incomplete or performed out of context can do more harm than good and in the hands of the untrained can be downright dangerous.

Some Cherokee people see only Cherokee medicine people for mental or physical illnesses. Others prefer a combination of treatment from a medicine man and conventional modern medicine. Some Cherokees no longer believe in the powers of traditional medicine people.


Didanawisgi is the Cherokee word for medicine man. A common thread woven through all Native American remedies is the idea of “wellness” a term recently picked up by some in the modern medical professions. A state of “wellness” is described as “harmony between the mind, body and spirit.” The Cherokee word “tohi” - health - is the same as the word for peace. You’re in good health when your body is at peace. The “medicine circle” has no beginning and no end and therefore represents a concept of “harmonious unity.”

Cherokee medicine is a prevention-based system that incorporates the whole person, rather than the cure-based system that is used by most modern doctors of medicine today, which focuses on the disease. It is the belief among American Indian “doctors” that to achieve wellness we must have a strong connection to all things natural and both create and receive harmony not only within ourselves, but also in all our relationships. Once harmony is restored, illness and other health distortions simply disappear. To some, this would be a “cure.” In the Cherokee tradition, this is just good health - the way it should be.

Here the goal is to first help the patient recover - to cure the sickness rather than treat the symptoms- to help the patient find his or her balance - the harmony of our living. The ceremony performed is as important as the potion or salve made from the plants or herbs. This is what is now known as holistic healing - a healing of the complete person.

There is a legend among the Cherokee that tells of the origin of medicine. It tells how the animals and birds met in council to decide what to do about the encroachment of man upon their world and how carelessly he was treating them. One by one they listed ailments and maladies that would afflict the humans. Had they succeeded, humans would surely have disappeared by now. But nearby, listening to the council were the plants and herbs and, not being troubled by the humans, they agreed to supply a remedy for each and every one of the diseases the animals wanted to thrust upon humankind.