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Shamanism/Indigenous Peoples
Record Type: Review   ID: 282

Voices of Our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings From the Wisdom Fire

Ywahoo, Dhyani

This moving book presents the teachings of a prominent Native American tribe, the Tsalagi (better known as the Cherokee). The vocation of the author, who is a member of the 27th generation blessed with this heritage, is to rekindle the flame of her ancestors by sharing her people’s oral tradition, which was handed down to her by her grandparents. In 1969, the Cherokees decided to share their teachings to non-natives with the hope that they would bring "peace and harmonious relationships for all beings," and help to insure that her own people "would have water to drink and a place to walk" (p. xi). The teachings are fundamental and could apply to any peoples anywhere.

Like many of the world religions, the lessons of these teachings are very familiar to me from reading about the aftereffects of exceptional human experiences. This is not surprising, for the founding visions of all religions were initially received through one or more EHEs, usually in the form of visionary experiences or guiding voices. It is even less surprising to read these teachings or these tenets of what I call the Experiential Paradigm in a book about Native American traditional wisdom. The original caretakers of America were trained not only to pass on the wisdom of their elders but to continue the visionary tradition by such means as the vision quest, fasting, the sweat lodge, sun dance, and other techniques of transcendence. Thus, theirs was and again is becoming a living tradition. After reading this book, I feel very grateful that this priceless hard-won wisdom has been shared—that we did not manage to exterminate all of the Native Americans, though we still fall far short of giving them their just due. Even if we gave back the entire country, it is nowhere near the land of splendor and plenitude it was when it was taken by brute force and even treachery.

Dhyani Yahoo is a peacekeeper by profession. She directs a training program called the Peacekeeper Mission and is founder and head of the Sunray Meditation Society in Bristol, Vermont.

The presentation itself is not simply linear. It is holonomic as much as possible, as the author attempts to present the teachings as they were taught to her. I cannot describe this as well as she does, so I will quote her description of the book’s message and the method used to relay it, as follows. "The Tsalagi teaching, like the Tsalagi conception of reality, is a circle, and I am speaking to you, the reader, as if to my relatives, sharing with you the wisdom of our ancestors. These are teachings from an oral tradition. They have been whispered, spoken, chanted, drummed and danced for hundreds of thousands of years, and they are imbued with the mystery of starlight, firelight, dawnlight. For the first time now these sacred teachings are conveyed in writing. May they kindle within your heart a great joy in the gift of life; in having friends, family, co-workers, a community to live and learn with; and in the opportunity to renew in this time the Sacred Hoop of life on this planet.

"The basis of the teaching is to infuse each moment with the three fundamental principles of intention, compassion, and doing good. These three principles and their relationship with individuals, families, nations, and the universe are essential concepts in the Tsalagi worldview, and they inform every part of the teaching. They are often referred to as the Elder Fires Above or the "three sacred fires" of will, love, and active intelligence. Each teaching gives at least seven reminders of how these primary principles manifest in our lives Thus, for each major section of the teachings presented here, seven examples are given, three directly related to the principles and four related to cycles of relationships. This formal pattern of repetition, like a sacred stitch, weaves a strong fabric of understanding.

"Each chapter can be read as a self-contained whole, yet the chapters also move in sequence, and the reader in invited to trace common threads through the book as a whole. "And the words themselves, they are a small part of the interaction of reader with teachings. The words are like a carrier wave for wisdom’s pure light.

"In Tsalagi worldview, life and death, manifestation and formlessness, are all within the circle, which spirals out through all dimensions. The teaching expresses that expansion of the spiral. The same story can be understood in various ways as one is exploring vaster dimensions of mind" (pp. xii-xiii). Thus has this tapestry been woven. The reader needs to weave him- or herself into it as well, so as to live this wisdom, not simply read about it.

Publisher Information:Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1987. Pp. xv + 294. Appendix A: The Family of Life: 273-277; Appendix B: The Directions and Their Attributes: 279-281; Appendix C: About Dhyani Ywahoo and Sunray Meditation Society: 283-284; Chapnotes: 267-272; 14 figs; 4 illus; Ind: 287-294; Sugg. rdg: 285-286
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