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by James Graham 

Posted: 05 May 2008
Word Count: 82

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For all their power, there was much
they could not conjure. As they

were often busy making rain, so it often
rained when they made it rain. They smoked
and danced away disease, invoking the eland;
and the sick were sometimes cured.

But for all their beast-icons, for all
their dead faints and nose-bleeds,
for all their ecstasies, they could not

conjure the kind of misery and power
the world would finally engender:
the black sun, the ice-clouds of tyranny.

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Comments by other Members

Elsie at 00:00 on 09 May 2008  Report this post
Hello James
I think what this is saying is that all the power of the shamanism can't compete against the ending of the world - which I'm reading as the current problems. ecological etc, but perhaps I'm skewing it. I think it's saying they were a harmless people - treading lightly. I'm intersted in the way the same beast characters seem to turn up, apparently in many people's experiences of shamanism, or journeying - have you ever read Leslie Kenton's book? I always wondered how she could be so prolific in her self help/nutrition book - apparently she has discovered how to stretch and compress time.

NinaLara at 20:31 on 17 May 2008  Report this post
Hi James - great. Another engaged poem. This has a fantastic storytelling quality with lovely rhythm. The picture of the shamans is briefly but effectively drawn and a love the way the last verse is rhythmically so much a part of the poem while saying something quite distinct. While the Shamans 'sometimes' had power, the real power lies in mundane distruction.

DeepBlueGypsy at 16:17 on 22 May 2008  Report this post
James, being American and having a few contacts with Native American Shamans throughout my lifetime- Serge Runningwolf Martel, Grandmother Parisha and James Pashlakai. My cousin was a teacher at the Navajo Nation Boarding school in Pueblo Pintado, NM, so many summer vacations were spent living and interacting with the Navajo. As an adult I have attended many Native American Ceramonies and lectures and participated in Shamanic rituals. So when I first read this poem, I had the Native American Shamans in mind, but as I reread it, the mention of the eland- from South Africa I realized this was more about the plight of Africa. No matter what nation, the plight is tremendous. The Shamans can deal with their own peoples and welfare, just not the “Ana’í,” in the Navajo language can mean alien or enemy. Beautifully written. Thank you, Divi

Ticonderoga at 14:52 on 23 May 2008  Report this post
I'd just like to echo Divi, really. Splendid.



James Graham at 21:37 on 23 May 2008  Report this post
Thanks Nina for such an affirmative comment. This poem is a few years old - never thought it worked, but have revised and think maybe now it does.

Not so much the end of the world, Elsie (I hope), as the kind of power we see in the world now, beside which the power of shamans looks very benign. (Though I doubt it was always benign.)

Divi, this is very interesting about the Navajo. I was thinking more of shamans of earlier times, and saying they couldn't cure the 'sickness' in homo sap that eventually led to the worst of our modern forms of power. But in a sense (apart from the eland) the poem could also be about pre-Columbian peoples of America. And the old rituals are still alive...tell me, for the Navajo, is shamanic ritual still in any sense a real religion, or is it more like a folk tradition that's now practised for the sake of preserving identity and continuity?


DeepBlueGypsy at 14:39 on 28 May 2008  Report this post
James, there are Navajo Ritual practitioners(priests)called "singers" they are the most respected highest order of ceremony leaders. Navajo "religous" ceremonies always have a singer, but not always a shaman. Very few outsiders can participate or witness them. Shamans work along side the singers (there are dancers too)with a lesser degree of ritual knowledge who can perform only short or incomplete ceremonies are referred to by another term, which might be translated as "curers." Shamans are the medicine people and their ceremonies don't always have a singer involved. Most of the ceremonies I have attended are about the restoration of harmony with the supernaturals Navajo belief, all illness or misfortune arises from transgressions against the supernaturals or the land. There are particular kinds of ceremonies designed to treat illnesses caused by the patient's transgressions, by accidents, against the supernaturals. From what I have witnessed, the Navajo practice their ceremonies, rituals not for the sake of keeping their traditions alive or to "amuse" the outsiders, but because everyday practices and rituals are very much a part of themselves and their beliefs. Their way of expressing acknowledgment of the divine is a way of living in each individual. Does this answer your question? Or make it more confusing? Blessings to you, Divi

James Graham at 15:37 on 30 May 2008  Report this post
'Very few outsiders can participate or witness them' - that's what I wanted to hear. It's sad and degrading to see traditional ceremonies and celebrations performed for tourists. It's very heartening to know that these religious practices still truly belong to the Navajo. They and all other 'First Nations' (I like this Canadian phrase) are survivors of a long genocidal oppression, and their culture must be allowed to continue and flourish. I've met Canadians (though not Americans, but maybe I was lucky when I was in the States) who despised 'Indians' such as the Ojibway of Ontario, and I found their attitude depressing. Looking at it another way, I'm grateful to them for making me react, argue with them, and read some First Nations literature. Thank you for these interesting facts about the Navajo rituals.


Ticonderoga at 15:55 on 31 May 2008  Report this post
This is suddenly horribly and immediately apropos given recent unfolding events in Brazil and Peru......Let's hope Brazil's good intentions prevail......


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