Manataka® American Indian Council
Sacred Ceremonies for a Price?
by Lee Standing Bear Moore, Takatoka, Manataka Correspondents
Grandfather Watches Over Us
We believe American Indian spiritual beliefs and practice cannot be bartered or sold at any price.
It costs nothing to enter the Sacred Circle because it does not belong to anyone, it is a gift of the Creator. There is no admission fee to a Purification Lodge because the messages, visions and teachings of the lodge are not owned by a human, but come directly from the Great Mystery. There is no monetary price to pay for the honor of going on a Vision Quest because the Spirit of God is there. When money and greed are present, the Spirit of the Creator is absent and thus there cannot be a Vision. The spiritual connection has been broken.
Several years ago, this Manataka member wrote in the article False Shamans "...Our ceremonies, dances, songs and symbols are sacred. They must be protected from theft, exploitation and desecration. We should encourage all people to seek their own ways of spiritual expression, the ways of their ancestors..."
Our belief has not changed nor is it in danger of being compromised after many years of bombardment and assault from those who wish to imitate American Indian spiritual ways, and by others of mainstream society who simply do not understand. Most of these people who try to justify "voluntary donations" or an "abundance exchange" and otherwise attempt to force the acceptance of money in trade for ceremonies are intelligent and otherwise caring individuals. Yet, they find our very simple philosophy difficult to understand. It may be greed that clouds their thinking, or it may be a lack of respect for the beliefs of others or a lackadaisical attitude toward anything not born in Eurocentric thinking. We do not know why they find it hard to understand that accepting money for sacred ceremonies is not acceptable -- regardless of how it is arranged, how it is worded, or how it is accomplished. Could it be they do not care to take the time or make the sacrifice necessary to comprehend the depth and breath of this ancient philosophy?
Our ceremonies are sacred. We do not own them. The messages, visions, healings, insights, teachings and miracles given during ceremonies do not originate from the human psychic or even the human soul, they come only by the grace of God -- the Creator of All Things. We cannot sell that which does not belong to us. The act of accepting money in exchange for sacred ceremonies is an admission the person conducting the ceremony owns it and thus what happens is not born by the grace of God.
Coyote Grows Spirit Wings
A Manataka Elder was invited to give a lecture on top of an Arkansas mountain where his ancestors once lived. It was to be a large gathering in September 2009 that featured 'healers' of many disciplines. Months after accepting the invitation, the Elder spoke for the first time to the organizer who informed him that during the three-day event time will be arranged for each presenter to provide services such as "blessings, healings, dream interpretations, counseling, etc. during individual private sessions. On top of spending hundreds of dollars to participate, unsuspecting guests are expected to ante-up a "donation" or a "abundance exchange" of $55 per half-hour for personal sessions.
The Elder decided not to participate in the private sessions because money would be demanded in exchange for spiritual interventions.
But, the non-Indian organizer persisted and attempted to entice him by saying, "...voluntary donations will support your work..." The fast-buck organizer, then lectured the esteemed spiritual Elder in the customs of American Indians with "...Voluntary abundance exchanges often occur in Native American ceremony... Elders have always been able to receive gifts in exchange for vision quests..." The organizer, who says he has been on three Vision Quests (he paid money for at least two) went on to arrogantly instruct the Elder about the right ways of gifting and ceremony by saying, "...abundance exchange is appropriate when energy is expended to complete the energy value cycle..." No response was given by the Elder. As a result, the lecture was cancelled by the organizer.
Coyote grows spirit wings of gold to trap unsuspecting seekers -- surrounds himself with pseudo-healers to enhance his appearance, and looks so very regal. But, coyote is still not happy -- he is bound to fail in the end and the people will get away. Beep Beep.
The Elderwould have presented the lecture as agreed, but he refused to be bullied and disrespected. Because he refused to perform sacred ceremony for an "energy exchange" (the promoter's words for money), hundreds of people were denied a portion of the program promised by the promoter.
From the organizer's point of view, money may be accepted for sacred ceremonies when a Spiritual Elder expends "energy" so the so-called value cycle may be completed. What the heck does that mean? A promoter's mumbo jumbo.
It was later learned the promoter often brags about the tens of thousands of dollars he makes from selling reservations to various events and rakes in thousands more during the events.
When an Elder agrees to perform ceremony it is not for the edification of the crowd or to please any promoter. If an American Indian spiritual Elder agrees to provide healing ceremonies in a private session, it is not done because there is money involved. It is done because there is real human need for healing and both parties exhibit strong faith in Almighty God to bring about the unbroken circle of love, peace and wellness.
However, it has been our experience that some people who gladly pay for ceremony are nothing more than novice wannabe shamans who plan to use bits and pieces of the actions and words of the ceremony to advance their own careers as so-called authentic healers. They pay for spiritual training, just like the promoter's vision quests experiences. Don't these idiots know that spiritual training is free? -- provided proper respect is given first.
We have witnessed first-hand at private events where people pay large amounts of money for the privilege of hearing the words of someone masquerading as an authentic Indian healer who charges money for ceremonies. Some people come away confused because they did not understand what really transpired. Some refuse to accept the thought that they were duped. Others, who want to play the copy-cat shaman game, come away with misinformation, poor examples of real ceremony and a lot of false ideas.
When money is offered for ceremony, the intent of the alleged spiritual Elder is suspect. Is the intent to act as a 'hollow bone' or conduit for Spirit or is the intent to grab the money and run? Whenever money is demanded for spiritual favors, the needy person is bit by a persistent feeling of doubt. "Is this guy real or does he only want my money?" Doubt is the exact opposite and the nemesis of faith. Faith is the one element the needy person must bring to ceremony. Without faith, there can be no healing. Therefore, instead of facilitating a beautiful moment when divine grace touches a person in need, it is turned into a farce.
Yes, we are aware of some American Indians openly solicit money for ceremony. Many genuine spiritual Elders publically speak out against their brothers and sisters who sell ceremony. Indians who sell ceremony will sometimes justify their actions by saying, "who cares if we taken money from stupid white people? They deserve to lose their money!" Therefore, the problem is not just pseudo-shamans and fast-buck promoters, the problem is also us. Indian people who use sacred Ways to enrich themselves know better, but the money has turned their heads and hearts.
Performing American Indian ceremony became stylishly popular several decades ago as "pseudo-Indian" groups, fake-shamans, and promoters began spouting concerns about the environment and animal welfare. Today, they talk about manipulating energy, channeling spirits, grids and crystal vortexes. They use distorted versions of Indian ceremonies and surround themselves with Indian dancers, singers and medicine people to enhance the appearance of realism.
Yes, the coyote with wings of gold is among us.
Money does not mix with American Indian spiritualism
In this case, the organizer confused the American Indian custom of honoring Elders with gifts and the performance of ceremony by linking two separate acts as if the power and grace of God can be bartered and exchanged for money. There is a big difference here.
First, there is a set price asked before the private session / ceremony. The idea that the exchange is 'voluntary' is a lot of superficial crap. The person who seeks healing certainly does not feel the price is voluntary. The person in need is put in an uncomfortable position of having to ante-up greenbacks for the right to receive blessings. The so-called 'healer' is forced by acceptance of the money to provide spiritual intervention when in fact, no spiritual relief may be possible because that decision rests solely with the Creator. Therefore, two people are made to feel cheap, one may feel cheated, and the only one to benefit is the organizer.
Let us imagine a person in need who paid money for healing, or some other blessing, is actually touched by Spirit during one of the pseudo-healing sessions. This is rare, but again it could be the decision of the Creator to do so. The question then becomes what lesson has the needy person learned? Did the individual learn that $55 worth of the healers time will buy a magnificent blessing of the Spirit? Did the person understand the miracle did not happen through the power of the human conducting the session, but it was a miracle of God? There are a dozen questions and no good answers for the unsavory practice of so-called "energy exchanges".
Healers of many disciplines including Reiki practitioners, Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, Ayurvedic Practitioners, Herbalists, Chiropractors, Nurses, Doctors, etc., all accept money for their services. Is this wrong? Absolutely not. These and other healing methodologies rely on human knowledge and experience and are not necessarily spiritual in nature or include American Indian ways. People who practice soul or power animal retrieval, divination or other forms of shamanic extraction often charge big fees for these services, but again they are not American Indian and it is none of our business if they charge money or not.
It is the phony fast-buck promoters and healers who use corrupted forms of American Indian ceremony for pay who must be stopped.
Second, presenting a gift to an Elder is something that is prayed about, thought about and planned for days or weeks before. Most of the time, the gift is handcrafted with loving hands or acquired by great labor. Or, the gift may be a simple stone, tobacco, sage, or a blanket. The intent of the gift is not to swap money for a favor as is the common Eurocentric idea of capitalism, but it is done from a heartfelt feeling of love and respect for the Elder and for his or her ancestors who suffered to gain the learning that has been passed along in a beautiful way. A gift given to an Elder is not an enticement, bribe, or an exchange of any kind. It is given freely without any attachments. When money is given with the expectation of receiving authentic Indian ceremony the entire process is tainted.
A spiritual Elder needs to eat and pay bills like everyone else. But, it must be remembered American Indian spirituality is not a profession. It is a way of life, it is a divine calling. Unlike organized religions with its hoards of paid clergy, clerical staffs, and huge facilities that require large amounts of money to operate, American Indian spirituality requires nothing but faith. Any attempt to pay American Indian spiritual leaders for ceremony is a direct assault on our sacred ways. So, how does an American Indian spiritual elder pay his bills? Simple. He works for a living or the tribe, family and supporters contribute to his or her welfare by providing necessities of life.
Third, it is true an Elder will expend a great amount of spiritual strength and energy during a healing ceremony. The Elder may take on or absorb negative energies that must be dealt with spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. The strain can sometimes be leave the wise healer exhausted. Yes, a great service of love is extended by the spiritual Elder, but the needy person is not required to give anything in exchange, except faith in the omnipotent power of God and a desire to help themselves.
It is by faith alone that allows the spiritual Elder and the person in-need to work together to bring about wholeness by the Grace of the Creator delivered by Spirit.
Fourth, money is not energy. Money is not a fair exchange for the beautiful works of Spirit --- Spirit has no value because it is priceless, beyond all human wealth and comprehension. An "energy exchange" cheapens the value and strength of American Indian spirituality, it is an abomination of true American Indian philosophy and belief to insinuate that money is a proper exchange. Oh we know in some circles money is said to possess great energy because it is believed people with money have power and people with money are to be feared. It is this same idea that builds huge institutions that attempt to control human thoughts and beliefs -- called organized religions. It is the same idea that compels some people to own and control everything in sight -- called imperialism or capitalism. It is this same idea that drives some people to create warring armies -- called oppressive governments. Fear and greed are the driving forces behind the love of money.
Freedom of worship is paramount
But people who follow the Good Red Road, do not want large institutions to control their spiritual beliefs - we have no large edifices to worship inside, no paid clergy, no written dogma or doctrine. Freedom of worship is paramount. We do not want to own every thing -- we believe the Creator gave us the gifts of the Earth Mother to share equally and fairly with our all brother and sisters - be they human, animal, plant or any other part of creation. We do not build large military complexes to protect us from our fears -- our families call upon the Spirit of Great Mystery to protect us, as they have done for thousands of years. Money is not an answer to our needs. Faith is the only answer we need.
There is much to learn and much to teach about the Beauty Way, the Good Red Road, American Indian philosophy. The depth and breadth of its wisdom has long been ignored and misunderstood by dominant society. People hunger to connect with the simple, yet profound concepts of our ways -- that we believe will help humankind to ascend to a higher plain of knowing and survive as a species on Mother Earth.
This cannot be done unless we divorce ourselves from the idea that money can be exchanged for sacred ceremonies.
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