Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Animist Service Societies
Lately in the face of having an real up and personal look at our current social system, as well as looking at the new laws on health insurance, I find myself thinking back to earlier times as well as other cultures who take care of each other in a much healthier way.
In my community there is a place that has been rented out to artists that was built and run by loggers a long time ago. This was a lodge they used for meeting and community get togethers as well as fund raising; the lodge was built for the purpose creating a cooperative that allowed loggers to gain health care. Other organizations around the united states where built many years ago that provided social services to people; the Odd fellows building around old town centers are a common site, few people know that the Odd fellows also own grave yards and the organization started as a way for low income members to be able to afford life insurance and to pay for burials of their members. The Eagles club, Moose lodge, Shriners, Masons, Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club are but a few. Many of these organizations are considered fraternities or sororities, or as the Odd fellows was called in England when originated in the 1700's as a friendly society.
All of these organizations where built on the foundation of helping members when they needed it in a time where there was no social welfare system, state health care or trade unions. Most of these organizations were non-profit mutual organizations owned by their members with all income passed back to the members in the form of services and benefits. Local services clubs as they are also called such as the Kiwanis club provide fire wood to single mothers in the winter time and one Kiwanis organization that is local to me runs a garden that is worked by volunteers as well as prisoners and the food that is grown is donated to the local food bank. Other service organizations such as the Fraternal Order of the Eagles were created in Washington state as a society for the development of the performance arts. Organizations such as the Elks Lodge are mostly social organizations that also work as charity and fundraising organizations to aid their community. Interestingly the Elks lodge also works as a way of honoring deceased members...
"Deceased and otherwise absent lodge members are recalled each evening at 11 p.m. when the lodge esquire intones, "It is the Hour of Recollection." The exalted ruler or a member designated by him gives the 11 o'clock toast, of which this version is the most common:
You have heard the tolling of eleven strokes. This is to remind you that with Elks, the hour of eleven has a tender significance. Wherever Elks may roam, whatever their lot in life may be, when this hour tolls upon the dial of night, the great heart of Elkdom swells and throbs. It is the golden hour of recollection, the homecoming of those who wander, the mystic roll call of those who will come no more. Living or dead, Elks are never forgotten, never forsaken. Morning and noon may pass them by, the light of day sink heedlessly into the west. But ere the shadows of midnight shall fall, the chimes of memory shall be pealing forth the friendly message: To our absent members."
In the past community members around the world saw the importance of these organizations because the government was not providing these services to those that needed them. Our grandparents knew the value of these organizations and often belonged to if not one several. Today we have our social services provided to us by privatized industry and our governments. The lack of personalized care and attention from our community wanes due to this dynamic today, and is woefully inept.
These society are nothing new animist culture as well had social and civic organizations, secret societies and rites associated to them, societies that encouraged every member to be a medicine person or the best warrior they could be; these organizations where also the law enforcement, and religious organizations of their societies. These societies worked, and in many cases continue to work to promote health and well being in animist communities. The names of many of the societies in Cascadia such as the Eagles lodge are often inspired by animist traditions.
A local therapist told me that he had gone over to do relief work in Indonesia after the tsunami hit there. He had planed to spend the majority of the time helping people cope with the trauma of surviving the tragedy. What he found however was a community that was extremely resilient. He found no cases of PTSD and people where coping with their grief very well. He could not at first understand why a society with no fundamental social services organizations or community mental health organizations could be so resilient.
What he discovered however was that each member of the community had a vested interest in each other community member. they also integrated ritual into their lives through building shrines which helped them deal with their grief (which reminds one of the Odd fellows as well as the Elks societies). This mutual care and care giving allowed these people to survive after the tragedy that occurred, and aided them in all other aspects of life as well, before and after the tragic tsunami. Working in the mental health field as a case manager and working daily with people in need I cannot help but look at the system I participate in as facilitating a lack of this mutual care, a passing of the buck if you will to state funded non-profit organizations, where the state has the final say as to how and who receives care; and why...
Value systems as well as aesthetics change from generation to generation, membership to social organizations such as those mentioned have wavered and waned. To belong to a civic organization today is a dieing tradition. Our needs are being provided for by state social services (sure they are) and it is easier to just pass the buck or live in tot6al apathy. We are becoming more and more divided and separate from each other; few of us know our neighbor next door or have even spoken to them. We live in communities? Many of us do not know what it is like to NEED aid from our community, and so invest very little into their community. These times are changing however. More and more people require aid due to the United States economic problems (all stemming from ecological devastation honestly) and it may be time again to reinvent or at the very least rediscover the community empowerment of the Service Societies.
Service societies can exist again and be motivated by bioregional as well as animist relational dynamics. Ritual and ceremony has always been a major facet in social cohesion as well as personal empowerment within societies. Mutual aid in assisting society members in helping each other has also empowered and co-created healthy communities. Groups that are forming now, such as a local organization like GRUB which teaches people to build garden boxes and grow food on their own property, Food not Lawns Organizations where also beginning to form aiding people to go local with their food production. These are non-profit organizations though, not necessarily service based societies. Non-profit organizations often times are funded by grants and not the community or members of the organization itself. Those that work for NPO's know too well that those who fund call the shots, if one wants funding then who ever is giving the money is in control. One must ask themselves what are the motivations of these people giving the grant? Are they members of the community? Do they live in your bioregion and do they understand the needs of those in your bioregion, human and other than human? Some may... but most will not. Funding provided by government funding to NPO's also continue the lack of regional autonomy, and further alienate us from our own home and community. This occurs because we are not giving the funding or doing the work for our community some one else it.
Dedication to Service
In my early twenties, I dropped out of college and studied and practice the art of shamanry, as well as the path of humble servitude. I took a part time low paying job, and ate approximately once or twice a day, some times eating road kill, dumpster diving or eating from the local food bank. At work I made bread from pizza dough that we threw away at the end of the day; and took it down to the park or the street's giving it away to any one who needed it. I would then get a cup of coffee and bring with me a book and a pouch of tobacco and I would sit on the busy down town sidewalk of the state capital I lived in. My daily mainstream mediation and prayer was a humble one, I would roll a cigarette and while smoking it I would ask life to bring me any one who needs healing and to help me to help them. I would say this prayer and open my heart. You can feel your heart when it is open, you feel loved by all that is, supported, and you feel love for all that is and supportive of all that is. I would put out my cigarette and unroll the tobacco and give what was left blowing my breath into it; my life force and then give it as an offering to life, on the side walk.
I did this every day for three years. I always had exactly what I needed to keep healing and helping others, even the eventual lack of fulfillment that led me to finding ways to help more people which placed me in mental health and finishing college.
During this time however I gave... I gave everything I had, I lead healing ceremonies with those I met, I built community and made strong and powerful allies in helping others. I brought healers to visit my community some times going into debt inorder to help others. The entire time I felt supported and guided and assisted by the land, by spirit, by the life force itself. In a very real way, moving my mind and body at times. I was the land, the whole in service to itself. My intuitive abilities soared! There where times where I began to understand what it meant to be a holy man, and I learned that there was not one thing I could ever do just for myself. In this time I went through an extreme healing and learning process as well; as I taught others I learned, as I healed others I myself healed. I needed help though, at times the need was so great but few where able to assist and so I spent time attempting to teach others how to awaken to the light within themselves and to serve others with humility. In a sense this is exactly what it is I am doing now.
When I started spending less time on the street and more time helping people through working with state funded agencies, I started to notice that the same power that came into me would enter into random people on the street. It was like watching a person get possessed by a beneficent being. You could see it, hear it in their voices, watch it in their behaviors... few of them new how to embody it for long and it would leave them. But I became aware that for those who allow themselves to live a life of humble service and who open their hearts to the whole the whole's ability to promote health and balance will become embodied within them, like a deity or bodhisattva of compassion entering into a monk in a trance dance. I saw that this force of nature or energy (we call it spirit in my community) was available to any one.
Over the years I have thought off and on about this path I walked in those years and from time to time I meet a young seeker and I recommend this to them. Few do so; perhaps they do not feel supported enough. Recently I watched the movie Men Who Stare at Goats, the NEW EARTH ARMY, I could not help but relate to these people, it was satirical of new agers, but the Jedi knights concept as funny as it seemed... was well possible, or some semblance of it. The notion of a group of people willing to embrace discipline and care for others using shamanic, and animist practice as a base of their philosophy, working with nature in synergy to aid others, this is possible... this could be! taking the shape of service communities as an organizational model bioregional animist societies could form on a membership basis focused on specific intentions, service to people in need on the street for example, care to the ill and the infirmed, care to the land and its need for healing and bioremediation, working with the spirit of place; with the life place, and the other than human persons of the life place. Done working with transrational practices allowing guidance and empowerment to heighten their efficacy in service.
It would be possible to begin small, groups of friends, meeting together donating small amounts of resources to their group intention. Through working with the spirit of place, with each other synergistically as well; the co-creation of rituals and ceremonies that would empower and create further social cohesion between society members. A deepening of ones synergy with place and each other could be developed through these practices, granting one help from the spirit of place in ones endeavor’s both personally and for the society and larger community. Meeting the needs of ones community or just narrowly working within ones own society could be a focus for these societies as well.
I would like to encourage people to think about beginning shamanic and bioregional animist societies with these thoughts in mind... this I believe is one way we can promote powerful changes in our communities, promote bioregionalism as a life way, and co-create healthy high synergy communities.