Saturday, 9 August 2014

Nyornuwofia Agorsor | Artist from Accra, Ghana

Tomatoes are part of the deadly nightshade family, poisonous to some but play a big role in Ghanaian domestic life as there is a market dedicated to the red fruit. The fish is the symbol for Christianity. The colours on the girl's face could refer to the Lebanese/Chinese/Indian invasion of Africa and the way in which the Continent is having to come to terms with becoming more culturally diverse. The mathematics or science, in the background, doesn't necessarily always add up. The lines repeated on the blackboard are a form of punishment in a borrowed language of a Colonial past. The Fish and tomato Trader in Class again? I like this work immensely as it's multi-layered and has real depth. The dominant use of the colour blue could suggest the idea of being all at sea...i.e. adrift or lost in a made up world without roots.

Tomato Market | Accra Ghana

The series of works encourage thoughts about the African conditioned snobbery of education and the acceptance of the elitist societies. Change comes about via rebellion and thinking organically without the aid of global support. The community makes the change but the artist must engage the society in order for permanent change to have everlasting effect. So let us look at this and your other works again. What is meant by all of this? Education = Mental States of Africans (Ghanaians) | Food = Wealth and as we can, da 5 aday it no dere so let us ask ourselves, who is benefiting from the education, who is able to be educated and who is doing the educating? These are the rainbow questions the artist is talking about. The African (Ghanaian) all but disappears when placed in a CLASSROOM; full of high class, middle class and the under class. Who benefits from the wealth of Africa (Ghana) everybody but the Africans (Ghanaians) so again they become invisible and so the Africa (Ghanaian) is no longer in the picture at all.

Nyornuwofia Agorsor | Artist from Ghana
Nyornuwofia Agorsor | Artist from Accra, Ghana

Here are some images of works within the series:



Saturday, 2 August 2014

Issues of Homosexuality

Gays: Guardians of the Gates

An Interview with Malidoma Somé
Copyright © 1993 by Bert H. Hoff

This article appeared in the September, 1993 issue of M.E.N. Magazine.




Malidoma Somé recognizes that he learned more through his initiation as a Dagara tribesman than from his PhDs from the Sorbonne and Brandeis University. His name means "be friendly to strangers," and he is charged by his elders of the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso (east of Nigeria and north of Ghana) with bringing the wisdom of his tribe to the West. His book Ritual: Power, Healing and Community (reviewed in this issue) is highly praised by Michael Meade, Robert Bly and Robert Moore. If you were not fortunate enough to catch his reading at the Elliott Bay Bookstore last August, you can find out more about him through the book and tape reviews in this issue.

During one of the Conflict Hours at the Mendocino Men’s Conference Malidoma spoke eloquently on indigenous people’s views of gay men. He kindly agreed to elaborate on his views as he sat with me among the redwoods of Mendocino.

Bert: At Conflict Hour you told us that your culture honors gays as having a higher vibrational level that enabled them to be guardians of the gateways to the spirit world. You suggested that our Western view limits itself by focusing only on their sexual role. Can you elaborate for our readers?

Malidoma: I don’t know how to put it in terms that are clear enough for an audience that, I think needs as much understanding of this gender issue as people in this country do. But at least among the Dagara people, gender has very little to do with anatomy. It is purely energetic. In that context, a male who is physically male can vibrate female energy, and vice versa. That is where the real gender is. Anatomic differences are simply there to determine who contributes what for the continuity of the tribe. It does not mean, necessarily, that there is a kind of line that divides people on that basis. And this is something that also touches on what has become known here as the "gay" or "homosexual" issue. Again, in the culture that I come from, this is not the issue. These people are looked on, essentially, as people. The whole notion of "gay" does not exist in the indigenous world. That does not mean that there are not people there who feel the way that certain people feel in this culture, that has led to them being referred to as "gay."

The reason why I’m saying there are no such people is because the gay person is very well integrated into the community, with the functions that delete this whole sexual differentiation of him or her. The gay person is looked at primarily as a "gatekeeper." The Earth is looked at, from my tribal perspective, as a very, very delicate machine or consciousness, with high vibrational points, which certain people must be guardians of in order for the tribe to keep its continuity with the gods and with the spirits that dwell there. Spirits of this world and spirits of the other worlds. Any person who is at this link between this world and the other world experiences a state of vibrational consciousness which is far higher, and far different, from the one that a normal person would experience. This is what makes a gay person gay. This kind of function is not one that society votes for certain people to fulfill. It is one that people are said to decide on prior to being born. You decide that you will be a gatekeeper before you are born. And it is that decision that provides you with the equipment (Malidoma gestures by circling waist area with hands) that you bring into this world. So when you arrive here you begin to vibrate in a way that Elders can detect as meaning that you are connected with a gateway somewhere. Then they watch you grow, and they watch you act and react, and sooner or later they will follow you to the gateway that you are connected with.

Now, gay people have children. Because they’re fertile, just like normal people. How I got to know that they were gay was because on arriving in this country and seeing the serious issues surrounding gay people, I began to wonder it does not exist in my own country. When I asked one of them, who tad taken me to the threshold of the Otherworld, whether he feels sexual attraction towards another man, he jumped back and said, "How do you know that?!" He said, "This is our business as gatekeepers." And, yet he had a wife and children -- no problem, you see.

So to then limit gay people to simple sexual orientation is really the worst harm that can be done to a person. That all he or she is is a sexual person. And, personally, because of the fact that my knowledge of indigenous medicine, ritual, comes from gatekeepers, it’s hard for me to take this position that gay people are the negative breed of a society. No! In a society that is profoundly dysfunctional, what happens is that peoples’ life purposes are taken away, and what is left is this kind of sexual orientation which, in turn, is disturbing to the very society that created it.

I think this is again victimization by a Christian establishment that is looking at a gay person as a disempowered person, a person who has lost his job from birth onward, and now society just wants to fire him out of life. This is not justice. It’s not justice. It is a terrible harm done to an energy that could save the world, that could save us. If, today, we are suffering from a gradual ecological waste, this is simply because the gatekeepers have been fired from their job. They have been fired! They have nothing to do! And because they have been fired, we accuse them for not doing anything. This is not fair!

Let us look at the earth differently, and we will find out gradually that these people that are bothering us today are going to start taking their posts. They know what their job is. You just have to get near them, to feel that they don’t vibrate the same way. They are not of this world. They come from the Otherworld, and they were sent here to keep the gates open to the Otherworld, because if the gates are shut, this is when the earth, Mother Earth, will shake -- because it has no more reason to be alive, it will shake itself, and we will be in deep trouble.

Bert: Christianity has separated spirit from body and spirit from Earth. And earlier you talked to us about Christianity suppressing your culture. So there’s a suggestion here that suppression of homosexuality would be the way for the Christians to shut down the gateways, shut down the spirit, and shut down our connection with the Earth.

Malidoma: Yes! That’s right! Christianity stresses postponing living on earth, as of we are only here to pack up our baggage and prepare for a life somewhere else "out there." Jesus Christ is right here, man! And of course anyone else who knows more, who knows better, will be suppressed.

And you start with the gatekeepers. You take the gatekeeper and you confuse his mind. You threaten him and you throw him in the middle of nowhere. Then nobody knows where the gate is. As soon as you lose the whereabouts of the gate, then you have a culture going downhill. What keeps a village together is a handful of "gays and lesbians," as they call them in the modern world. In my village, lesbians are called witches, and gay men are known as the gatekeepers. These are the two only known secret societies. These are the only groups that will get together as a separate group and go out into the woods secretly to do whatever they do. And if they find you during their yearly symposium, they have the right to kill you.

Unless they go out on their yearly symposium, the village cannot be granted another year of life. They have to go out to do what they do, in order for the village to feel safe enough to live the way it has lived before. This is why, to me, we’re playing with our lives.

Bert: So our culture may not be granted another year of life.

Malidoma: That’s right! Every year it feels like the number of years that this culture is entitled to live is getting smaller. So God only knows how close to the chasm this culture is. This constantly- reiterated discomfort and hatred for the gay person is again another indication that every year we might as well be prepared for the apocalyptic moment when the stars start to fall to the earth.

You see, unless there is somebody who constantly monitors the mechanism that opens the door from this world to the Otherworld, what happens is that something can happen to one of the doors and it closes up. When all the doors are closed, this earth runs out of its own orbit and the solar system collapses into itself. And because this system is linked to other systems, they too start to fall into a whirlpool. And the cataclysm would be amazing!

Ask the Dogon, they will tell you that. The Dogon. They’re a tribe that understands this so well, it’s amazing, mind-boggling. And it is a tribe that knows astrology like no other tribe that I have encountered. And the great astrologers of the Dogon are gay. They are gay. There is a dull planet that, in its orbit, is directly above the Dogon village every 58 years. Who knows that, but the gay people.

I mean, I’m not just trying to make gay people look fine. This is the truth, man! I’m trying to save my ass!
Why is it that, everywhere else in the world, gay people are a blessing, and in the modern world they are a curse? It is self-evident. The modern world was built by Christianity. They have taken the gods out of the earth sent them to heaven, wherever that is. And everyone who aspires to the gods must then negotiate with Christianity, so that the real priests and priestesses are out of a job. This is the worst thing that can happen to a culture that calls itself modern.

Bert: That theme came up earlier with you and Martín, the Mayan shaman here, that if a modern society wants to shut down another culture they will go out and kill the keepers of the ritual.

Malidoma: Oh, yes! Because they know that this is where the life-pulse of the culture is. This is where the engine room of the tribe is. So if you go and bomb that place, then the whole mechanism shuts down. That’s pretty much what’s at work in the third world, and what has happened here with the Native American culture. And the thing about it is that humans are going to be begetting gatekeepers, no matter what. This is the chance that we’ve got. So maybe that means that sooner or later we’re going to wake up to the horror of our own errors, and we’re going to reconsecrate our chosen people so that they can do their priestly work as they should. Otherwise, I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand. My position about it is not so much that gays be just forgiven. That’s just tokenism. But that they serve as an example of the wrong, or the illness, that modernity has brought to us, and that we use that to begin working at healing ourselves and our society from the bottom up. That way, by the time we reach a certain level, all the gatekeepers are going to find their positions again. We cannot tell them where the gates are. They know. If we start to heal ourselves, they will remember. It will kick in. But as long as we continue in arrogance, in egotism, in God-knows-what form of violence on ourselves, no, there’s that veil of confusion that’s going to continue to prevail, and as a result it’s going to prevent great things from happening. That’s all I can say about that.

Mental Health in Africa

What a Shaman Sees in A Mental Hospital


The Shamanic View of Mental Illness

In the shamanic view, mental illness signals “the birth of a healer,” explains Malidoma Patrice Somé.  Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born.

What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as “good news from the other world.”  The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm.  “Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field,” says Dr. Somé.  These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm.

One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness.  When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to “nervous depression,” Dr. Somé went to visit him.

“I was so shocked.  That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.”  What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop.  This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation.  As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture.  What a loss!  What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.”

Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world.  In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated.  When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening.  The result can be terrifying.  Without the proper context for and assistance in dealing with the breakthrough from another level of reality, for all practical purposes, the person is insane.  Heavy dosing with anti-psychotic drugs compounds the problem and prevents the integration that could lead to soul development and growth in the individual who has received these energies.

On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of “beings” hanging around the patients, “entities” that are invisible to most people but that shamans and psychics are able to see.  “They were causing the crisis in these people,” he says.  It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients’ pain in the process.  “The beings were acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of people.  They were really fierce about that.  The people they were doing that to were just screaming and yelling,” he said.  He couldn’t stay in that environment and had to leave.

In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile the energies of both worlds–”the world of the spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and community.”  That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need.  Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer.  “The other world’s relationship with our world is one of sponsorship,” Dr. Somé explains.  “More often than not, the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other world.”
The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world.  The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings’ attempts to merge were thwarted.  The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer.

“The Western culture has consistently ignored the birth of the healer,” states Dr. Somé.  “Consequently, there will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many people as possible in an attempt to get somebody’s attention.  They have to try harder.”  The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized.  “The sensitivity is pretty much read as an invitation to come in,” he notes.
Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity.  Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive.  In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé.  The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people.

Schizophrenia and Foreign Energy

With schizophrenia, there is a special “receptivity to a flow of images and information, which cannot be controlled,” stated Dr. Somé.  “When this kind of rush occurs at a time that is not personally chosen, and particularly when it comes with images that are scary and contradictory, the person goes into a frenzy.”
What is required in this situation is first to separate the person’s energy from the extraneous foreign energies, by using shamanic practice (what is known as a “sweep”) to clear the latter out of the individual’s aura.  With the clearing of their energy field, the person no longer picks up a flood of information and so no longer has a reason to be scared and disturbed, explains Dr. Somé.

Then it is possible to help the person align with the energy of the spirit being attempting to come through from the other world and give birth to the healer.  The blockage of that emergence is what creates problems.  “The energy of the healer is a high-voltage energy,” he observes.  “When it is blocked, it just burns up the person.  It’s like a short-circuit.  Fuses are blowing.  This is why it can be really scary, and I understand why this culture prefers to confine these people.  Here they are yelling and screaming, and they’re put into a straitjacket.  That’s a sad image.”  Again, the shamanic approach is to work on aligning the energies so there is no blockage, “fuses” aren’t blowing, and the person can become the healer they are meant to be.
It needs to be noted at this point, however, that not all of the spirit beings that enter a person’s energetic field are there for the purposes of promoting healing.  There are negative energies as well, which are undesirable presences in the aura.  In those cases, the shamanic approach is to remove them from the aura, rather than work to align the discordant energies

Alex:  Crazy in the USA, Healer in Africa
To test his belief that the shamanic view of mental illness holds true in the Western world as well as in indigenous cultures, Dr. Somé took a mental patient back to Africa with him, to his village.  “I was prompted by my own curiosity to find out whether there’s truth in the universality that mental illness could be connected with an alignment with a being from another world,” says Dr. Somé.

Alex was an 18-year-old American who had suffered a psychotic break when he was 14.  He had hallucinations, was suicidal, and went through cycles of dangerously severe depression.  He was in a mental hospital and had been given a lot of drugs, but nothing was helping.  “The parents had done everything–unsuccessfully,” says Dr. Somé.  “They didn’t know what else to do.”

With their permission, Dr. Somé took their son to Africa.  “After eight months there, Alex had become quite normal, Dr. Somé reports.  He was even able to participate with healers in the business of healing; sitting with them all day long and helping them, assisting them in what they were doing with their clients . . . . He spent about four years in my village.”  Alex stayed by choice, not because he needed more healing.  He felt, “much safer in the village than in America.”

To bring his energy and that of the being from the spiritual realm into alignment, Alex went through a shamanic ritual designed for that purpose, although it was slightly different from the one used with the Dagara people.  “He wasn’t born in the village, so something else applied.  But the result was similar, even though the ritual was not literally the same,” explains Dr. Somé.  The fact that aligning the energy worked to heal Alex demonstrated to Dr. Somé that the connection between other beings and mental illness is indeed universal.
After the ritual, Alex began to share the messages that the spirit being had for this world.  Unfortunately, the people he was talking to didn’t speak English (Dr. Somé was away at that point).  The whole experience led, however, to Alex’s going to college to study psychology.  He returned to the United States after four years because “he discovered that all the things that he needed to do had been done, and he could then move on with his life.”

The last that Dr. Somé heard was that Alex was in graduate school in psychology at Harvard.  No one had thought he would ever be able to complete undergraduate studies, much less get an advanced degree.
Dr. Somé sums up what Alex’s mental illness was all about:  “He was reaching out.  It was an emergency call.  His job and his purpose was to be a healer.  He said no one was paying attention to that.”
After seeing how well the shamanic approach worked for Alex, Dr. Somé concluded that spirit beings are just as much an issue in the West as in his community in Africa.  “Yet the question still remains, the answer to this problem must be found here, instead of having to go all the way overseas to seek the answer.  There has to be a way in which a little bit of attention beyond the pathology of this whole experience leads to the possibility of coming up with the proper ritual to help people.

Longing for Spiritual Connection

A common thread that Dr. Somé has noticed in “mental” disorders in the West is “a very ancient ancestral energy that has been placed in stasis, that finally is coming out in the person.”  His job then is to trace it back, to go back in time to discover what that spirit is.  In most cases, the spirit is connected to nature, especially with mountains or big rivers, he says.

In the case of mountains, as an example to explain the phenomenon, “it’s a spirit of the mountain that is walking side by side with the person and, as a result, creating a time-space distortion that is affecting the person caught in it.”  What is needed is a merger or alignment of the two energies, “so the person and the mountain spirit become one.”  Again, the shaman conducts a specific ritual to bring about this alignment.
Dr. Somé believes that he encounters this situation so often in the United States because “most of the fabric of this country is made up of the energy of the machine, and the result of that is the disconnection and the severing of the past.  You can run from the past, but you can’t hide from it.”  The ancestral spirit of the natural world comes visiting.  “It’s not so much what the spirit wants as it is what the person wants,” he says.  “The spirit sees in us a call for something grand, something that will make life meaningful, and so the spirit is responding to that.”

That call, which we don’t even know we are making, reflects “a strong longing for a profound connection, a connection that transcends materialism and possession of things and moves into a tangible cosmic dimension.  Most of this longing is unconscious, but for spirits, conscious or unconscious doesn’t make any difference.”  They respond to either.

As part of the ritual to merge the mountain and human energy, those who are receiving the “mountain energy” are sent to a mountain area of their choice, where they pick up a stone that calls to them.  They bring that stone back for the rest of the ritual and then keep it as a companion; some even carry it around with them.  “The presence of the stone does a lot in tuning the perceptive ability of the person,” notes Dr. Somé.  “They receive all kinds of information that they can make use of, so it’s like they get some tangible guidance from the other world as to how to live their life.”

When it is the “river energy,” those being called go to the river and, after speaking to the river spirit, find a water stone to bring back for the same kind of ritual as with the mountain spirit.
“People think something extraordinary must be done in an extraordinary situation like this,” he says.  That’s not usually the case.  Sometimes it is as simple as carrying a stone.

A Sacred Ritual Approach to Mental Illness

One of the gifts a shaman can bring to the Western world is to help people rediscover ritual, which is so sadly lacking.  “The abandonment of ritual can be devastating.  From the spiritual view, ritual is inevitable and necessary if one is to live,” Dr. Somé writes in Ritual:  Power, Healing, and Community. “To say that ritual is needed in the industrialized world is an understatement.  We have seen in my own people that it is probably impossible to live a sane life without it.”

Dr. Somé did not feel that the rituals from his traditional village could simply be transferred to the West, so over his years of shamanic work here, he has designed rituals that meet the very different needs of this culture.  Although the rituals change according to the individual or the group involved, he finds that there is a need for certain rituals in general.

One of these involves helping people discover that their distress is coming from the fact that they are “called by beings from the other world to cooperate with them in doing healing work.”  Ritual allows them to move out of the distress and accept that calling.

Another ritual need relates to initiation.  In indigenous cultures all over the world, young people are initiated into adulthood when they reach a certain age.  The lack of such initiation in the West is part of the crisis that people are in here, says Dr. Somé.  He urges communities to bring together “the creative juices of people who have had this kind of experience, in an attempt to come up with some kind of an alternative ritual that would at least begin to put a dent in this kind of crisis.”

Another ritual that repeatedly speaks to the needs of those coming to him for help entails making a bonfire, and then putting into the bonfire “items that are symbolic of issues carried inside the individuals . . . It might be the issues of anger and frustration against an ancestor who has left a legacy of murder and enslavement or anything, things that the descendant has to live with,” he explains.  “If these are approached as things that are blocking the human imagination, the person’s life purpose, and even the person’s view of life as something that can improve, then it makes sense to begin thinking in terms of how to turn that blockage into a roadway that can lead to something more creative and more fulfilling.”

The example of issues with an ancestors touches on rituals designed by Dr. Somé that address a serious dysfunction in Western society and in the process “trigger enlightenment” in participants.  These are ancestral rituals, and the dysfunction they are aimed at is the mass turning-of-the-back on ancestors.  Some of the spirits trying to come through, as described earlier, may be “ancestors who want to merge with a descendant in an attempt to heal what they weren’t able to do while in their physical body.”

“Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos ensues,” he says.  “The Dagara believe that, if such an imbalance exists, it is the duty of the living to heal their ancestors.  If these ancestors are not healed, their sick energy will haunt the souls and psyches of those who are responsible for helping them.”  The rituals focus on healing the relationship with our ancestors, both specific issues of an individual ancestor and the larger cultural issues contained in our past.  Dr. Somé has seen extraordinary healing occur at these rituals.

Taking a sacred ritual approach to mental illness rather than regarding the person as a pathological case gives the person affected–and indeed the community at large–the opportunity to begin looking at it from that vantage point too, which leads to “a whole plethora of opportunities and ritual initiative that can be very, very beneficial to everyone present,” states. Dr. Somé.

The Shamanic View of Mental Illness
by Stephanie Marohn (featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé)
(Excerpted from The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia,
pages 178-189, or The Natural Medicine Guide to Bi-polar Disorder)