My journey with the Runes began during a Mask Dance workshop given by Nana Nauwald in Northern Germany. I had first met Nana at the Cuyemungue Institute near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founded by an old family friend, Dr. Felicitas Goodman, the Institute continues Dr. Goodman’s research into ecstatic trance postures. Her discovery that many images and sculptures of people in unusual body postures could be used as ritual guidance to guide shamanic visionary states had been received with enthusiasm in Germany and many Germans came to New Mexico to participate in workshops and support Dr. Goodman’s work. As several of the German participants informed me, at that time, no Americans from the Institute had participated in any of the work being done there.
I had taken Nana up on her invitation to join her week-long workshop and found myself in a lovely seminar house secluded in among the trees bordering the heather of the Lunebergerheide. The group of about 30 Germans and I began the workshop by asking the spirits to guide us in our ritual. We used shamanic drumming and rattling to drive the visionary state and a specific body posture to guide our experience. The questions that we sought answers for included which spirits would like to participate, how they would like to be represented, and what form our ritual dance might take.
While many of the German participants were pleased to have visionary experiences with beings from the American Southwest where I come from, such as Coyote and Grandmother Spider, I promptly found myself deep in a philosophical discussion with the energetic field of the Runes. At this time, I had very little knowledge of the runes and no conscious interest in studying them. I found myself faced with several dilemmas ranging from the relatively trivial problem of how to represent the rune-field in a mask dance to the deeper and longer lasting issue of how I was supposed to go about presenting the Runes as they wished to be understood. My fellow workshop participants were greatly amused. They laughed as they informed me that it is the Germans that are usually caught wrestling with the great philosophical issues. They were enjoying playing with the creative and humorous energies of Coyote and company, and gladly left the philosophical conundrums to me.
After some discussion of the question of the Mask Dance, the runes and I settled on the Deer as one of the beings that most profoundly understands and participates in the great cycles of living and dying that sustain the web of life. The greater issue I faced was the Runes insisting that I was the one to tell their story as one of creation. I was sure I had neither the knowledge nor the background to tell their story the way they wanted it told. Understanding the Runes required that I open myself to both their history and their mythology and I was even more certain that I had no desire to even start on such a lengthy and demanding journey (click here).
I grew up in the multi-cultural atmosphere of the American Southwest. My parents were actively involved in the Hispanic and indigenous communities. But they were most comfortable engaging in the intellectual and academic debates of the linguists and cross-cultural anthropologists working in the area. My father especially enjoyed debating topics of comparative religion, philosophy, and psychology. I knew how much time and discipline went into the research behind the arguments.
It also seemed to me that the more brilliant the intellectual activity, the more disassociated the person seemed to be from their own physical and emotional experiences. In contrast, my experiences in the Hispanic community were grounded in emotional relationships and love of the land. The Hispanic community is primarily Catholic. They considered reading a questionable and even dangerous activity. One of our Catholic neighbors was quite distraught when her son joined a Pentecostal protestant sect and began speaking in tongues. She was sure that it was reading the bible that had rotted his brain, and thought that if he had only left reading to the priests he would have been alright. In my experiences with the indigenous communities, the life force of body was the direct path to spiritual experiences. Their traditions are oral and experiential. My father recorded a number of sacred songs and stories in the 1950’s because so much information carried in the voice that is impossible to transmit it through the written word.
As a young adult, I chose to pursue practices that required clear oral communication and engaged both my body and my brain. I found a constructive outlet for my ability to collect, organize and express information in being a wildfire dispatcher where large groups of people understood that a lack of clear communication and prompt action led to large fires, destruction of property and injuries to people. I enjoyed schooling horses according to the principles of classical horsemanship, which I later realized were rooted in the peoples and horses of Spain and Portugal. Felicitas Goodman’s work with body posture and trance work was another avenue of working with both the brain and the body, and is still a living, albeit secret, practice among indigenous peoples. Then I learned that process of learning how to read radically reshapes the way our brain processes information.
The ability to derive meaning from abstract marks has its roots in our innate ability to ‘read’ the natural world (click here). We ‘track’ animals, weather and the seasons by ‘reading’ the traces they leave on the world around us. Removing marks from a natural context and lining them up on a flat surface as we do to create an alphabet takes our human perceptions into a whole other world. Brain surgeon Leonard Schlain was inspired to write his book ‘The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, the Conflict between Word and Image’ because of the physical differences he found in the structure of the brains of literate and illiterate patients. The neural network laid down in the brains of literate people directs all incoming information through the part of the brain that process the written word. Emotional and physical input is not recognized by that part of the brain and so is discounted. Once we learn to read, our perceptions become our pre-conceptions all too rapidly. We come to despise the spoken word, and we begin to behave as though the written word is more real than our own physical experiences.
The Protestant idea that everyone has to learn to read in order to have a direct experience of the word of god and so earn their way into heaven is quite recent. For most of human history, unauthorized literacy has been a crime punishable by death. The mythologies of the alphabets, along with the power of the chants and meditations associated with them, were kept as closely held secrets among a select group of people. These ancient traditions of secrecy have been suppressed by Western Civilization and the ideas and practices lost and distorted. Recreating the creation myths and esoteric practices of any alphabet is a seriously daunting challenge.