“Figures in the Dark” by Randall Sahmie, at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art.
In another lifetime beyond reckoning, our minds were with the earth. It was not a perfect life, it was not Avatar. We healed with herbs, and honored the rhythms of life and death, youth and age, wisdom and learning. It was a gentler life and one that respected nature.
It was a matriarchal life. Women were not just seen as appealing ovary-holders as they became later. They were healers, they held counsel together, they planned planting and harvest.
It is difficult to understand now the fundamental differences of a culture that did not just work with the seasons, but celebrated them, did not just make decisions collaboratively, but assumed each viewpoint was valid. There is no written history, we have few clues in goddess statuettes. Anthropology of this era in human life has been deeply biased by the white Victorian male assumption that they were savages.
I only know it was a different cultural paradigm, far from savage, because I remember.
Wherever those memories come from, there also springs a narrative of the fall. The fall was a dialogue, probably in many tribes over many years, between men and women, about the question of control. Why not raise livestock so we do not have to go and hunt? Why not say, this land is ours? Why not establish family around motherhood, so you have one man to keep you safe?
Ideas that probably seemed reasonable. In some ways, couples still have these conversations today. Yes, living in the city is fun and artistic, but if we moved to the suburbs, we’d have a garage and Costco.
Over time, the dialogue evolves. We need to protect this land, these sheep. I need to protect you, sometimes in combat. Since I protect this land, these sheep, this woman, I “own” them. Now I need power to protect. The value of my property is determined by the power it gives me, therefore the sheep may in the longterm be more valuable than my wife if she does not give me son-warriors or daughters to barter.
The argument the Victorian male anthropologist makes in favor of the patriarchal paradigm is that it fixes things (with science and law) rather than accepting them. This argument of the superiority of (male) reason over (female) intuition has been won so effectively that girls become women being taught to ignore those “funny feelings,” and boys become men feeling they’re supposed to figuratively fight their way through life.
We are taught to insist, to prove, to conquer.
I am deeply grateful for the wisdom and freedom we have gained thanks to our gods of science and nature-domination. I recognize that instincts can be causeless fear in disguise, that raising livestock is more productive than foraging, that the goddess of the harvest was probably also a goddess of dying by forty.
But I also argue that the patriarchy and the Catholic God live on even in our agnostic culture, in the guise of science and reason. I argue it is man-thinking that must soon make way for all-thinking.
I’m talking about our cultural devotion to reason, analysis, categorizing, quantifying, studying and trying to master.
We must learn a balance between intuitive knowing and analytical knowing, between accepting and fixing, between valuing and possessing.
I visited a historic cathedral today. Usually anything of old Catholicism makes my hackles rise, but today I found myself sitting down with a full heart. I was overcome by this intense but odd sensation of release. I felt, with that unprovable, instinctive knowing, that I had been fighting with God for so long. Long before I incarnated as Palmer, daughter of an atheist. I had fought with His rules, His sin, His shame. I had fought with my urges, my guilt, my frustration.
Why, I asked lifetime after lifetime, must I live like this, do this, be this?
For seven lifetimes I have shaken my fist at God. Now, I have started hearing a much older, furious, deeply loving presence. The Goddess has no power now, but she has a voice that still rises from wet earth. Her wish is as insistent as the curling tendrils of wild vines. She asks, not to revive ancient ritual, but just to remember.
In remembering, I lose my taste for the paradigm we live in now. I lose my taste for battle, for challenge, for protecting and conquering and proving. I lose my taste for the antiseptic limitations of science as doctrine. I am so deeply bored, I shrug at God. And I can only cast a loving smile at the Goddess.
Sitting in the cathedral, with angels flying overhead and a recorded choir drifting from the arches, I realized, We grew up. A child left its mother’s love at home, and went with its father into the world. And like any child, we each eventually realize that her love is not enough, and his rules no longer matter.
A soul becomes mature realizing, I must love myself, and make my own rules.
And discover whatever comes next, on our own.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The first Native American to be sainted.