The Shamanic Imagination:
Whitehead, Crazy Horse, and Fat Souls
Video and Music by John Trudell
John Trudell (born February 15, 1946) is an American author, poet, actor, musician, and former political activist. He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes' takeover of Alcatraz beginning in 1969, broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. During most of the 1970s, he served as the chairman of the American Indian Movement, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After his pregnant wife, three children and mother-in-law were killed in 1979 in a fire at the home of his parents-in-law on the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Nevada, Trudell turned to writing, music and film as a second career. He acted in three films in the 1990s. The documentary Trudell (2005) was made about him and his life as an activist and artist.
Imagine a group of people who are making hell on earth today. They are obsessed with oil and power, and with the movement of arms and money. They think numbers and data are more important than stories and songs, and they believe that the earth was created for human use. They don't know that rocks are alive and that the ancestral spirits are as real in their way as are the plants and animals around us. They think that the well-being of a society is measured in terms of gross domestic product rather than the well-being of life, both human and more-than-human. Intoxicated by ideologies of consumerism, they are blind to the beauty of the planet and the poignancy of each life. They are crazy as hell.
It will take somebody crazier than hell to see beyond their craziness. Someone who knows that the truly real things of our universe -- plants and animals, stars and planets, people and spirits -- are made of stories and songs rather than zeros and ones. Someone who knows that our calling in life is not to amass wealth beyond our need, but to hear the songs of creation and sing with all our relatives: friends and strangers, plants and animals, stars and planets. Someone who knows that we are bones made of spirit.
A Whiteheadian Appreciation of Shamanism
Yes, it will take someone like the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who offers ten ideas conducive to a philosophy of shamanism. Whitehead knows (1) that the entire universe is an ongoing journey which forever dances forward into an undetermined future from out of infinite memories of the past; (2) that so-called dead matter is filled with creative energy, which means that even rocks are alive in their way, radiant with a kind of personality; (3) that three-dimensional space is but one of an uncountable number of dimensions in which actualities can exist, suggesting that humans can access multiple planes of existence through multiple forms of feeling, some of which are in touch with eternal realities; (4) that each moment of experience -- whether human or angelic, atomic or divine -- is a coming together, a concrescence, of the whole past history of the universe, meaning that each bone in our body is a site where the many become one; (5) that human experience is always embodied, and that bodies can be invisible as well as visible; (6) that all beings are present in all other beings, which means that the universe is a seamless web of inter-dependence and mutual story-telling, incapable of being torn apart into absolutely separate compartments; (7) that all living beings tell stories, not only in how they present themselves to the world but in who they are from the inside, which means that stories are not mere appendages to what it means to be real, but the very essence of reality; (8) that human consciousness is but the tip of the experiential iceberg, which means that there are modes of knowing and feeling which far transcend verbal-linguistic knowing, and which can yield insights conducive to the well-being of life; (9) that science and art and religion are three ways of approaching the same reality, namely life itself; and (10) that the universe unfolds within the womb of a Creator spirit whose very breath can offer guidance for the journey of each soul, human and more-than-human.
And it will take someone who can articulate these sensibilities artistically, through music and image and movement, like the crazier than hell John Trudell, who reminds us that we can become fully human only as we remember the voices that rise up from within us, from out of a living universe in which bone and spirit are interwoven, helping us respond to the Creator spirit and find our calling as children of earth and sky.
Or someone who, like Patricia Adams Farmer, the Whitehead-influenced novelist who has authored the Fat Soul Philosophy series, invites us to take note of the way in which the warm energy of a rock is very sure of itself; and how ceibo trees are shamans in their own right, provoking and cajoling us into flights of imagination and self-awareness; and how even in the quaking and breaking of everything, the very endurance of rocks and bones invite us, as children of the earth, to recognize that we are also children of the sky.
Fat Soul Shamanism
For Patricia Adams Farmer a truly "fat" soul is not overweight, rather it is rightly and expansively sized. It is fat because it is wide enough to include the energy of rocks, the teaching of the ceibo, the quaking of the earth, and the multiplicity of the spirits, some of whom are in heaven and some on earth. A fat soul is a shamanic soul, crazier than hell and thus offering a portal by which the will of the heavenly Shaman might be done on earth as it is in heaven. Her words capture the spirit. Call it Fat Soul Shamanism. Perhaps it is best to close this foray into shamanism with excerpts from some of her articles on JJB.
The energy of rocks is particularly mysterious and primordial...A rock holds the energy of the sun long after everything around it succumbs to darkness and chill. The warm energy of the rock feels as if it were a living thing. And, in a sense, it is. And its “life” radiates a personality of something strong and trustworthy—and forever present in the world, remaining long after we are gone. The rock is very sure of itself, of its past and its future. And it has reason to be. When we pick up a rock, we are not just holding a lump of minerals: we are holding a piece of eternity in our hands.
You cannot ignore a ceibo. The ceibo refuses to be overlooked, snubbed, or discounted as a mere tree. As I say, they are more than trees. Ceibos are the kings and queens of the dry tropical forest, dominating acacias, palms, and other “ordinary” trees. The ceibo, with its lime green trunk and spindly, fairy tale limbs is not ordinary. Oh, no. It lives and breathes and boasts and jokes and shouts out to all passersby: I am Green, I am beautiful, I am Ceibo!
So the question, then, after the quaking and breaking subsides, is this: can we ever find solid ground again—a sense of reassurance that something is solid somewhere? The bleached, smooth corpses of trees, even in their stark demise, seem to answer in the affirmative. Of course time, nature's natural remedy, comes into play. Eventually the sand will cover up the dead timber, or it will be caught by a tide in the full moon and be swept away to other shores. People will come and carry it off to build houses and fences. The shore will, with time, be cleared. But time does not always clear away the debris of pain and heartbreak, not all by itself.
We, in the process world, often speak of relational well-being of the whole. Whitehead called his own development of process thought, the philosophy of organism. A good term, organism. For process thought is a way of seeing the full vitality of relations, where every part of the organism is important, vital, working together with as much intense harmony as possible. Beauty emerges out of such relations, which explains the wonder of the human body, the pelican, the cat, the butterfly, the earth itself.