Sunday, September 22, 2019

Shaman Walking to Moscow to Expel Putin Arrested

According to Amnesty International, a Siberian shaman walking across Russia to Moscow and promising to use his shamanic powers to "purge" President Vladimir Putin in 2021, was abducted by a squad of masked law enforcement officials and held in an undisclosed location. When citizens disagree with their government, there are many ways to voice opposition -- whether it's through protests or voting in an election. Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from Russia's republic of Sakha in Siberia, was taking a different approach. The shaman left Yakutsk, capital of the vast Sakha Republic, on March 6 this year. The 51-year old ethnic Yakut shaman calls his quest divinely ordained, and insists that Putin is a manifestation of dark forces which must be banished to save Russia from ruin. God had one condition: Gabyshev had to reach Moscow on foot, which would allow him to muster the strength needed for the final showdown.

Gabyshev began his odyssey in March, promising to walk more than 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) from his native Yakutia region to the Russian capital. To meet his goal of reaching Moscow by August 2021, Gabyshev walked 20 kilometers each day. With him, he towed an aluminum cart holding all his possessions, including a portable yurt, a stove, clothes and provisions. He stopped in towns and cities along the way, giving sermons and meeting with local opposition activists with the goal of inspiring a nationwide democratic movement. Chronicles of his journey, which take the form of short video addresses from roadside campsites and short exchanges with passing drivers and long-distance truckers, have won Gabyshev a huge following in Russia. As the shaman has gained more sympathizers, he has become something of an opposition politician.

But police in Buryatia said on Thursday they had arrested Gabyshev on a highway in Siberia in connection with an unspecified crime in Yakutia and that they would fly him there. Gabyshev had walked nearly 3,000 kilometers by Thursday. When asked about Gabyshev's arrest, the Kremlin said it was impossible to keep track of all the criminal cases in Russia.

Amnesty International condemned the arrest in eastern Siberia. "The shaman's actions may be eccentric, but the Russian authorities' response is grotesque. Alexander Gabyshev should be free to express his political views and exercise his religion just like anyone else," Amnesty's Russia Director Natalia Zviagina said in a statement.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

American Indian Perspectivism

Now that the age during which all human civilization developed is ending, it might be time to pay more attention to the experience of those whose world has already ended: indigenous peoples. Depending on how you count them, there may be up to three hundred million indigenous people still on the planet. Most are survivors of colonialism. The genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas was the beginning of the modern world for Europeans, but the former remain as veritable end of the world experts. Models for restoring our relationship with the Earth exist in the cultures of indigenous peoples, whose values and skills have enabled them to survive centuries of invasion and exploitation.

Establishing a relation to indigenous thought and practice is no simple task. Not only do we have different views, understandings, perceptions and cultures that see the world in different ways, we inhabit very different worlds. American Indian conceptions are grounded in perspectivism, a concept originally coined by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Perspectivism, according to Viveiros de Castro, is the philosophical view that there are many different world views depending on an individual's particular perspective. Put another way, every entity views every entity and event from an orientation peculiar to itself. Perspectivism holds that only one spirit exists in everything. It implies that everything is alive, sentient and shares a common spiritual essence.

Perspectivism assumes multinaturalism, which is the polar opposite of our multiculturalism. In multiculturalism, there is only one nature, but there can be many cultures, and it sets about studying, documenting and classifying them. By contrast, in multinaturalism, there is only one culture (spirit/soul) and multiple natures. From an American Indian point of view, there is no singular nature as such because perception is dependent on perspectives (humans perceive nature differently than animals, and animals perceive nature differently than spirits, and so on), yet none of these natures is absolute and they are all just as valid.

Another way to view the difference is to put it like this: Westerners see themselves physically as animals and spiritually different; American Indians see themselves spiritually as animals and physically different. American Indians inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours where nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own. Every entity is conceived as having a soul -- intentionality and conscious perception -- like a human being.  Moreover, all beings perceive themselves as humans and other beings as animals. While viewed by humans as animals, animals and other beings regard themselves (their own species) as human and live in conditions similar to humans; that is, they have a social and cultural life similar to those who inhabit an American Indian village.

Jaguars, for example, are thought to see themselves as humans, to see humans as human prey like deer, and their own food as that of humans. Establishing an authentic relationship with other beings therefore requires adopting their perspectives, as shamans do when they shapeshift into animals. Shamans will shapeshift into an animal so as to see the world through their eyes and to feel what they feel. Shamanism is a practice of defying the limits of human perspective, crossing borders into the social worlds of other species, administering relations between natures. Essentially, the shaman is a diplomat who creates a dialogue with other beings. As Viveiros de Castro puts it, "By seeing nonhuman beings as they see themselves (again as humans), shamans become capable of playing the role of active interlocutors in the trans-specific dialogue and, even more importantly, of returning from their travels to recount them; something the 'laity' can only do with difficulty." (1)

Shapeshifting is more than just transforming into an animal as is often depicted in shamanic accounts and tales. It is the art of shifting our old, entrenched thought patterns and perspectives in order to transform ourselves, both as individuals and communities. The purpose of shapeshifting is to develop new thought and behavior patterns in order to change the world. With all that is happening in the world today, it is good for us to get out of our own comfort zones in order to broaden our perspectives, to learn from and about others, to interact with the world differently, to see it with new eyes. By changing the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us, we shapeshift our reality.

1. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics (Univocal Publishing, 2014) p. 60.