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Cosmopolitan Spirits

In the various shamanic rituals I experienced, it was common to invoke exotic animals from the American continent when invoking the cardinal directions to create sacred space. The women’s group follow Villoldo’s Four Winds system of correspondences: south/serpent, west/jaguar, north/hummingbird and east/eagle. On a car journey home from a Full Moon ritual one night, I raised with one of the group the issue of invoking animals which did not exist in the Maltese landscape (but would be familiar to Native Americans). She said it would not matter if they invoked dolphin and other local species instead; the group follows the Four Winds system simply because this was how they were originally trained. She emphasized that it is the symbolic associations of the animals which are important, and those associations have universal applicability in terms of their meaning and power. When e-mailing me a copy of the invocations, another in the group noted that the animals representing the directions change with different schools of shamanism; she reiterated Sandra Ingerman’s claim that “shamanism is a path of direct revelation ... so each of us can have unique and personal experiences.”

When I raised the issue of invoking nonlocal animals with some Temazcal participants including Naia, she thought my question odd, explaining that the provenance of the animals was unimportant. It was not an actual animal from a particular landscape that was being invoked; it was the animal spirit, which is infinitely greater and unrestricted by material place or national borders. Over dinner one night another woman was similarly bemused, stressing that she was connecting to the spirit of the animal and it did not matter where the animal lived. In Csordas’s terms, animal spirits “travel well” transnationally (2007: 261). As a result of these conversations, it became clear that my ideas about shamanic traditions being tied to the particular geocultural spaces in which they were rooted, and what I had deemed the incumbent political implications vis-a-vis cultural appropriation when these traditions were exported, seemed parochial and outmoded to most shamans. Cultural or national origins and boundaries are perceived as less important than universal needs, and they see shamanism as intensely relevant to both universal and their own needs as individuals. In a globalized world characterized by mobility and connectivity, where notions of “ours” and “theirs” are difficult to sustain and arguably unhelpful, shamans are inclined to focus on what they see as universally beneficial spiritual resources. Those I met have global social networks; they travel frequently for work, holidays, workshops, conferences, spiritual seeking and to visit family and friends; they are continuously connected to the internet. They are cosmopolitans who clearly experience a strong sense of “living in one world.” The spirits, animal and otherwise, also live in this world and are cosmopolitan too.

This is not to say that heritage and local places do not matter. We are not talking about “a One-World placelessness” produced by the global consumer culture (Klein 2000: 117). For people with an animist worldview, the place where one lives constitutes a unique multispecies community with whom one experiences intimate connection on a daily basis. This community’s importance does not derive from its national or cultural connection; it has to do with one’s embodied connection to place and those many beings with whom one shares it. Unlike some other international shaman teachers, I was told, Carlos, the Argentinian shaman who runs the Temazcals in Malta, is happy for the participants to adapt the sweat-lodge to the local environment. Zephyrus supports these adaptations (he has also been instrumental in helping adapt Wicca to Malta), and has a rather different take on the issue of universal and local animal spirits from others I met:

Carlos is very realistic about the directions and elements that we use and insists it is useless calling yourself Native American when you’re in an island with a different climate and a different earth, fruits, herbs, and whatever. OK, follow the Lakota tradition, but we’re Maltese, so if we’re honouring the waters, we have to honour dolphins, lampuki and all those spirit animals.

We don’t have eagles, but we have falcons. Otherwise it doesn’t make any sense! It has to work for you, even psychologically. In Druidry it’s quite similar. In that path I can participate in ceremonies which are earth-based, but I cannot connect with the stag or the grizzly bear or the salmon.

Carlos himself initiates some of the local adaptations. Traditionally, for example, the Temazcal altar, which is placed between the sweat-lodge and the sacred fire, is created from mounded earth in the shape of a turtle—a reference to “Turtle Island,” the name by which Native Americans refer to North America because of its shape. But because the turtle symbolism is meaningless in Malta, Carlos creates the altar in the shape of a heart, a universal symbol, which here symbolizes the loving heart of Mother Earth (see Figs. 12.3 and 12.4).

The stones are blessed and placed on the sacred pyre. Photograph

Fig. 12.3 The stones are blessed and placed on the sacred pyre. Photograph: Kathryn Rountree

 
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