Ancient ways for today

In the last of our articles on shamanic practices, Leo Rutherford summarizes the key points of shama

Shamanic practises, which have existed since the paleolithic period, are the oldest way which humanity sought connection with creation. The shamanic practise is shared by indigenous peoples the world over with an underlying cosmology that cuts across cultural differences and customs. All of us have evolved from shamanic cultures. Shamanism is not imported; it is our roots wherever we live. Today shamanism survives on all inhabited continents in less 'developed' regions, in spite of relentless western scientific materialism, the exploitation of the Earth and nature as something to be dominated, and dogmatic male-dominated religion.

Shamanism is a path to knowledge which is gained through experience of many facets of life. It is not a belief system, it is a way of knowledge, which is known from inside and stands up to the tests of time and experience. It is proven to work unlike beliefs which are taken on from outside and not personally tested in the laboratory of life.

In the past two to three millennia, a male ‘God’ in the image of man has been put into the minds of the people, rather like a Father Christmas figure. He is seen by many religious people as separate from the Universe and often sitting in judgment of it – and of us. This is totally at variance with the shamanic cultures who saw Creator and Creation as one and the same ‘God’ as the essence of existence of which we ourselves are an integral part. When we see ourselves as living within and as part of God, we don’t need complicated theology, we can go out to the trees, the animals, the sky and feel God present in nature.

The shamans say we are supposed to be the Caretakers of the Earth. We are the one species with the knowledge of Self, and thus the power of conscious choice. We are challenged to awaken to our Oneness with All Things, to our relationship to each other as cells in the body of Creator/Creation and to use our powers wisely. As the insatiable and unsustainable nature of Western style civilisation is becoming visible, more and more people are turning to the ancient indigenous cultures for help and guidance in finding a way back to living in greater harmony and balance with nature, with Planet Earth, and with themselves. Will we be in time? How can we do enough to change our polluting ways before our Planet ceases to be able to sustain us in the way to which we have become accustomed?

I was an engineer/business manager until mid-life crisis propelled me to seek deeper meaning in my existence. My odyssey into self-healing lead me, to my surprise, to the most ancient cultures. I have been involved in shamanism for nearly 30 years now and my world view and my life have changed beyond recognition. I am free of the guilt of Christianity and of the whole concept that belief/faith is necessary. My life quest is for knowledge.

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Has Arlene Foster saved power-sharing in Northern Ireland?

The DUP leader's decision to attend Martin McGuinness' funeral was much more than symbolic. But is Gerry Adams willing to make a deal?

After some prevarication, DUP leader Arlene Foster chose to attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry today. Her decision to do so cannot have been an easy one.

A substantial part of her loyalist base has noisily resisted attempts to memorialise the late deputy first minister as anything other than an inveterate killer. Foster herself notes in today’s Belfast Telegraph that the former IRA commander was responsible for the deaths of “many neighbours and friends”. And in 1979 – aged just eight – she bore witness to the bloody aftermath of an IRA attack in her own home: her father, a reservist police officer, was shot in the head by a gunman later eulogised by McGuinness.

Her attendance at today’s funeral is thus noteworthy and has been the subject of due praise. She was twice applauded by the congregation: as she took her seat, and after Bill Clinton singled her out in his eulogy. It is, however, much more than the symbolic gesture it might appear.

Last month’s election, which saw the DUP lose 10 seats and unionist parties lose their Stormont majority for the first time in nearly a century, proved Foster to be damaged goods. She was – and remains – tarnished by the RHI scandal but also by her crass behaviour towards the nationalist community, particularly on Irish language issues.

Her carelessly won reputation as a truculent bigot will therefore not be easily lost. Her departure remains a red line for Sinn Fein. But with just four days until the deadline for a new devolution settlement, Foster’s presence at McGuinness’ funeral is the clearest indication yet of the DUP’s carefully calculated strategy. It isn’t quite a resignation, but is nonetheless indicative of the new manner in which Foster has carried herself since her party’s chastening collapse.

She has demonstrated some contrition and offered tacit acknowledgement that her election shtick was misjudged and incendiary. Her statement on McGuinness’ death was delicately pitched and made only oblique reference to his IRA past. In the absence of a willingness to allow Foster to step down, the decision instead has been taken to detoxify her brand.

The conciliatory Foster the DUP will nominate for First Minister on Monday will as such at least appear to be apart from the dogwhistling Foster who fought the election – and her attendance today is the superlative indication of that careful transition. There has been talk that this increases the chance of a deal on a new executive. This is premature – not least because the onus is now almost entirely on Sinn Fein.

Theirs is just as much a mandate to reject Stormont as we know it as it is to return and right the DUP’s wrongs. Gerry Adams, the last member of the Armalite generation standing, has made this abundantly clear – and has hardened his line just as Foster has made sure to be seen magnanimously softening hers. He said last night that he would not tolerate any extension of power-sharing talks beyond Monday’s deadline, and called on Dublin to prevent the UK government from re-instating direct rule.

Though Adams also maintained a deal was still possible in the coming days, his statement augurs badly. As the former UUP leader Lord Empey told me on the day McGuinness died, the Sinn Fein president – the ideologue to McGuinness’ Stormont pragmatist – is now entirely without equal within his party. Though he has set the transition to a new generation of female leaders in train, he remains in total control.

The demand for Dublin’s involvement is also telling: as the leader of the third-biggest party in the Dail, his is an all-Ireland long game. Enda Kenny will soon depart, offering Fianna Fail – riding high in the polls – a useful pretext to renegotiate or scrap their confidence and supply arrangement with his minority government. Sinn Fein are on course to make gains, but implementing Brexit and austerity as partners in a Stormont executive would undermine their populist anti-austerity platform.

As such, Empey predicted McGuinness’ death would allow Adams to exert a disruptive influence on the talks to come. “I don’t think it’ll be positive because for all his faults, Martin was actually committed to making the institutions work,” he said. “I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed – and it was obvious from the latter part of last year that Gerry was reinstating his significant influence in the party. For that reason I think it will make matters more difficult.  I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my sense.”

He is not alone. There was, earlier this week, growing confidence in Westminster that some fudge could be reached on the most contentious issues. It isn't impossible - but Adams’ renewed dominance and rejection of the extended timeframe such negotiations would undoubtedly require suggests a new executive is as unlikely a prospect as it has ever been. With Foster quietly reinventing herself, the DUP could be the big winners come the next election (which could come this year and reinstate a unionist majority) – and the resurgent republicans might well rue the day they squandered their big chance.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.