For me, Dances with Wolves has always been the film that placed a spotlight upon how our beliefs really do create the world we live in. Here Kevin Costner plays an army officer who is posted to the boundaries of the then ‘Wild West’ and has his western beliefs and way of life transformed by a tribe of Amerindians.
His conversion comes from realising that they are not the ‘savages’ portrayed by the popular perception of his society but rather a caring people who looked after and protected each other. Eventually his acceptance into the tribe allowed him to join a hunting party going in search of buffalo.
As they reached the brow of a hill, stretched out before them as far as the eye could see were the carcases of hundreds upon hundreds of slaughtered buffalo. The party went into a state of immediate shock and incomprehension at what they saw. Their trauma was caused not only by the sheer numbers involved but also finding that only the hide and tongue had been taken, the remainder of the animal simply discarded to rot away.
The Shamanic beliefs that underpinned their society taught them respect for all other living beings they shared this planet with, as well as a deep respect for the planet itself. These beliefs held that the buffalo represented the single greatest contribution to their way of life. It provided them with their clothes, the roof, wall and floor covering for their home, as well as food and tools. Even the sinews were used to bind their clothes together.
The disciplines exercised by this profound belief meant they would only kill what they needed and when they needed it. Their respect for the animal was such that when all body parts had been used they would place the skull on the ground to face the rising sun, believing this would ensure the animal’s soul had a safe journey back to its ancestors!
The Christian immigrants to America had different beliefs. They saw these mighty beasts as the means by which to accumulate vast wealth. Such was their greed that the buffalo population was reduced from an estimated 60 million to just 750 (yes, seven hundred and fifty!) in a century of slaughter for tongues and hides.
For me this microcosm shows how our beliefs impact upon how we live life. Today that mind-set has become global, as ‘factory’ ships decimate fishing stocks in exactly the same way as the buffalo. Our forests are being ravaged no less efficiently, as profit destroys any respect we might have had for all else that shares this beautiful Planet and without which we could not survive.
If our dominant belief system had the sustainable elements of the Shamanic we would not be facing the horrendous depletion in natural resources now occurring. Sadly, in the same way we fight each other for dominance of political beliefs, our religions have also fought for positions of dominance over the centuries.
Shamanism was pushed into a backwater by powerful Christian forces. Interestingly Witchcraft was also discredited in these power plays. Whilst the latter’s popular perception is of sacrifices and other ‘Satanic’ rituals, ever since its inception all those centuries ago it has held women in equal status to men! Not only that but all of its beliefs are regularly updated to accommodate evolutionary change.
If western religions had adopted a similar discipline with their beliefs they would not have seen people walking away from them in such numbers today. I believe it is for this reason that they have been singularly incapable of halting the increasing immorality of unregulated Capitalism that has steadily and surely divorced us from this Planet and each other. Student loans and the Greek debt fiasco are evidence of unhealthy beliefs that not only allow wholly irresponsible lending but then encourage more debt, bringing untold misery to whole nations of people.
The narrow belief in profit and debt that now dominates is incapable of sustaining us and will, like the buffalo, put us under threat of extinction. Deep down we know this but are held mesmerized by the relentless barrage of media propaganda that dominates our beliefs as ruthlessly as the Church did for all those centuries. Unlike religion however, we don’t have centuries to allow these shallow beliefs to run their course and lose their credibility and power, if we are to survive.
I am not proposing we all move over to Shamanism or Witchcraft, although elements of both would go a long way to creating new dominant beliefs that are broader and more nourishing than current financial ones. Putting the Planet and its inhabitants before profit we can repair the damage already done and responsibly come together as the Global Society evolution is now taking us towards.
Until the next time
Thinking from his Book: Global Magna Carta. Returning Power to The 99% . . . If They Want It! By J T Coombes.