Il Tamburo dello Sciamano


American Indians and Spiritual Tourism

Some time ago an Italian website – a bit reactionary in my opinion – included me in the blacklist of those people doing illegal Indian ceremonies for spiritual tourists.
I wrote to the site owner and after I explained him my point of view, he removed my name and this website from the list.
In spite of the fact that I was a student of a Lakota holy man, I don't nor will ever do any Lakota ceremony, nor do I teach American Indian spirituality. I don’t even claim to be a Lakota medicine-man, or – worse yet, as some do – a Lakota “shaman". By the way, Indians never use the term shaman!

Ojibwe American Indian (Chippewa)
In a picture of 1899, Gay-shi qon nay-yash-ie – which means “Swift Feather" – an authentic (this time for real...) Ojibwe or Chippewa holy man.

Spiritual tourists shopping around

Why don't I teach Indian spirituality?
For sure I am not afraid of blacklists… And in all my life I have conducted only an Inipi (Lakota Sweat Lodge) that my first master allowed me to do. This, though, was before I learned that Indians had forbidden all white people to give Indian ceremonies.
Apart from that, I have always performed, for several years, only Shuar rituals or at least rituals of Shuar origin.
I have never really explained the reason. Even though I was for two years a student of a holy man, I think it is unfair to put myself in the shoes of Indians to talk and to argue about their religion or – better – their religions (I will clarify this below).
However, I keep on receiving advertisements about Inipi, dream ceremonies and other rituals from all over Europe. Some people have even asked me to promote them on this website, others asked my opinion or my... blessing.
Many of those who followed or still follow my drum circles are spiritual tourists – even if they do not even define themselves as such. They participate in (pretended) Lakota rituals in September, in a Huichol ceremony in November and in an Ojibwe Inipi (impossible! Inipi is only Lakota) before Christmas… They also join some of my drum circles, of course.

Now it's time to make something clear.

The religions of American Indians

In my opinion what is written on books or in the numerous New Age sites on North American Indians is almost entirely false.
Spirituality – the real one – of any Indian nation would not, or at least can hardly be of any interest to a westerner. Indian religions are addressed only to the community, its future and its afterlife, but always and only as a community.
Black Elk (the correct translation should be "Black Wapiti"), while journeying to the Celestial Worlds saw the Spirits of deceased Indians, happily gathered together in circles in a green meadow. The tribe and the nation continued to live in heaven, but the dead individuals in the circle are not even mentioned (or are of no interest).
Let's not forget that Black Elk was baptized, so he was influenced by Christianity... you might wonder then how non-Christian Indians used to be! The point is that the religions of the Indians do not consider the individual.
The Indian Gods guarantee the future of the People, the so-called "red people", before and after death, but the individual does not exist except as part of the tribe; he survives with it and only within it.
Just figure how this spirituality could be of any interest to a westerner! Westerners live only for themselves, rarely for their family. In most of the cases, they have two if not three incompatible families (the "extended family"), who certainly do not dream of living all together in the afterlife. On top of that they are characterized by difficult relationships, usually not very healthy, just with small groups of colleagues or a few friends – who maybe they met during seminars of “self-help" or the like.
The religions which we are used to, such as Christianity or Buddhism, are mainly directed to the individual; the community comes after. However, none of the well-known American Indian religions do this. To my knowledge, not even the least known.

As it is underlined by many traditional Indian writings no single "Indian spirituality" exists: in fact the religions of the Lakota and Apache people have little in common, the same goes also for the Chippewa (Ojibwe) and Lakota. Many Indian religions are as different among them as Hinduism and Catholicism.
Yet Internet sites, books and self-proclaimed medicine-men teach a generic Indian spirituality that never existed. They invented it (many of them are real Indians but also charlatans) mixing New Age beliefs, popular in the West Indian rituals, with more or less adapted or even invented ceremonies. This rubbish is made up to meet the Western imagination – naive and not based on anything real – about the American Indians. These fantasies always contain the illusion of the pure and good Indians.
In many books, seminars and/or in movies like "Dances with Wolves", the Indians speak of their spirituality of peace and tolerance – but the Apaches, for example, were ruthless and fierce warriors!
One of the most mystical final expression of the Lakota religion was the Ghost Dance which predicts a divine justice that will kill all white men (!) and America would be given back to the red men.
In other words: when the Indians, defeated and locked up in the reservations, lost their hope to exterminate the white people with weapons, dreamed of them being exterminated by the Gods.

Given the considerable differences between the Indian religions and the fact that they take care of and are concerned about the community – while the individual is at its service – it does not make any sense for a westerner to attend Indian ceremonies, unless as spectator.
Let me explain: the rites and religious practices of Apache are meant to worship their gods, to find meaning in the fate of their people, to direct it to the future, and perhaps to share the happiness in Heaven with other compatriots and relatives, and to enjoy the eternity reserved for the Apache nation.
Now: unless you are (or become) an Apache, following their religion does not make any sense to you.
The same applies to all other Indian nations.
When I was a student of a Lakota holy man for two years, I wanted or hoped to become a Lakota, which eventually – after the above mentioned decisions about the whites – I was not allowed to.
Is it true that the whites cannot participate to Indian ceremonies?
Since ancient times, some whites have always been admitted to certain ceremonies (not all, anyways) either as witnesses or because they needed help or a healing, and they were admitted since they were friends of the red men. This were the main reasons why the white men could participate in Sweat Lodges.
However those were always just occasional events. Unless the white would become an adopted Indian.
Never ever Indian ceremonies, as seen in Europe, involving only westerners, are possible! It makes no sense, because the ceremonies are done to take care and keep alive the tribe, not the individuals.
No one can say that a Lakota or Chippewa community exists anywhere in Europe! No group of westerners can even understand what a community in the American Indian meaning is. You can't be a Lakota without having ever lived with the Lakotas, sharing their customs, environment, territory, stones, and all the nature. All of them are inextricably part of their religion.