This past spring, the media was ablaze with a story about a Christian radio broadcaster, Harold Egbert Camping who predicted that on May 21, 2011, Jesus would return and those who were true believers and the “righteous” would be taken bodily up to heaven. The rest of us “nonbelievers” would be destroyed with the Earth itself in his end-times scenario. Camping calculated the date based on a numerological interpretation of the Bible. When the rapture did not occur as he had predicted (he had already been wrong once before in 1994), he backpedaled and said that instead a “spiritual judgment” had occurred and set a new end times date for October 21, 2011.
Apocalyptic and end time prophesies have been around for millennia. Native American voices have been among them, most famously the Maya with their complex calendar. Given how many misconceptions there are about prophecy and how many fear-based messages, I feel it is important to sift the wheat from the chafe, so to speak, and offer my insights on how to interpret and live with prophesy.
I come to prediction well-trained. My mother was an avid astrologer. She regularly predicted future events in my life in ways that were often reflections of her own beliefs and judgments about how I should live my life. What concerned parent with such a tool in hand would not do the same? In fact, her predictions in many areas often proved to be true: for instance, I was supposed to go to Russia on a college trip during the fall of 1982. She predicted it would be canceled, but that I would have another opportunity to go the following winter. Events happened just as she foresaw.
Unfortunately, my romantic relationships were not outside her interest: based upon a comparison of birth charts, she insisted that my first serious boyfriend in college would not be good for me and that “one guy is really in love, the other not.” Her predictions, although well-meaning, were confusing for me. They made me doubt my own intentions and not trust my feelings.
What I know from growing up with my mother’s astrological predictions is that they can be very addictive, particularly when we have a lot of anxiety and fear about the future. Money, relationships, and career often engender a great deal of apprehension. Therefore, in my mid-20s, I made the decision to no longer seek out my mother’s astrological counsel because I realized that I needed to learn to live and cope with the inevitable complexities of and human anxieties about life in the present moment.
Therefore, over the years as I have explored Native American spirituality, I have kept Mayan and other Native prophesies at arm’s length. I have considered them an exercise of the mind more than anything to be taken more seriously.Yet, as the years have worn on and as strange and extreme weather patterns have manifested the world over, including in central Virginia where I live, I have had to consider whether there is some modicum of truth to what Native Americans call “earth changes” and their belief that humanity as a whole is in a dramatic transition in consciousness before the dawn of a more peaceful, golden age.
Sun Bear and Wabun Wind describe earth changes this way in their book Black Dawn, Bright Day: Indian Prophecies for the Millennium that Reveal the Fate of the Earth: “The sacred teachings show us that we are definitely moving into major Earth changes now. The prophecies are being fulfilled. We are at the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. Although the Earth changes are part of a foretold sequence, they are coming more quickly because of the human role in them. During these times, it will be difficult for our Earth Mother to preserve herself from destruction at the hand of humankind. The Earth has gone through major changes in her history. The difference now is the influence of the humans, escalating the speed and severity of what is happening” (p. 36). They wrote this in 1992. Sun Bear had visions that predicted violent and unpredictable weather all over the planet as a result of ongoing human abuse of the Earth through the use of chemicals, environmental destruction, pollution, and the ongoing relentless drilling for oil even in the face of obvious dangers to wildlife, the planet and ourselves. He also decried war, violence, and the gobbling up of wilderness to accommodate a growing human population. Sun Bear and Wabun Wind also offer advice for the deeper meaning of these changes to come: “I feel–and Spirit has told me also–that this is a time for human beings to find the spiritual beliefs that link them to the Earth….I’m told by Spirit that we have to build a belief system in which we carry the law in our hearts–not one where we look over our shoulder to someone else….”
The Hopi, Iroquois, and Mohawk also have prophesied great environmental destruction coming to a head in the mass death of fish, pollution in the waters and air, and the possibility of massive war. The Hopi prophecy reads: “These are the Signs that great destruction is coming. The world shall rock to and fro. The white man will battle against other people in other lands — with those who possessed the first light of wisdom. There will be many columns of smoke and fire such as White Feather has seen the white man make in the deserts not far from here. Only those which come will cause disease and a great dying.”
The great Medicine Man, Black Elk, whose autobiography, Black Elk Speaks, published in 1969, relates a great vision he had as a child: “I looked below me where the earth was silent in a sick green light, and saw the hills look up afraid and the grasses on the hills and all the animals; and everywhere about me were the cries of frightened birds and sounds of fleeing wings. We came above a place where three streams made a big one–a source of mighty waters–and something terrible was there….Flames were rising from the waters and in the flames a blue man lived. The dust was floating all about him in the air, the grass was short and withered, the trees were wilting, two-legged and four-legged beings lay there thin and panting, and wings too weak to fly.” The blue man has been interpreted by Ed McGaa Eagle Man, author of Creator’s Code and 9 other books, as representing the destructive impact the white man’s ways will have on Earth.
The Mayan calendar is known to come to an end on December 21, 2012. In their complex cosmology based on the exact mathematical calculations of astronomical events, the Maya and Hopi say that 2012 will be the end of one 26,000 year cycle of darkness sometimes called the 5th world. For those who promulgate fear-based scenarios from prophecy, such as Camping, the New Testament’s Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ with its passages about the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are often paired with the fact that the Mayan calendar comes to an end. These passages in the Bible have been interpreted to mean that there will be a divine apocalypse in which the Earth and all her inhabitants will be destroyed except those who are truly pure. This prophesy and others are linked to a belief that Jesus will return again to Earth and will deliver the Last Judgment of all humans.
Other fundamentalist groups, such as the 19th century Millerites–followers of a man named William Miller–also believed in a second coming of Christ in the year 1843 followed by earthly destruction. Seventh-day Adventists took up the Millerite perspective and have since then promulgated an apocalyptic, doomsday event in which only they (and only certain numbers of them) will be saved and taken to heaven. The famous psychic, Nostradamus, who lived in France in the 16th century is also often invoked by those who tend towards painting a grim picture for our planet’s future. He made hundreds of predictions of historical events in verse form. However, because his language is symbolic, any reading of his work is necessarily interpretive–often making sense only after the fact.
What does seem certain across these many prophecies is a prediction of increasing suffering on Earth due to environmental destruction and degradation, as well as violence. More intense and frequent earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other potentially destructive weather are predicted and seem to be happening around the world, at least in part to our species’ irresponsibility and greed. Escalating wars and violence put the well being of the planet at risk, even if we don’t technically live in an active “war zone.” Certainly, 9/11 and the threat of further terrorism, real or imagined, as well as wars waged against elusive “enemies,” such as Osama bin Laden, point to a worsening of the role of violence in our world. As Daniel Jonah Goldhagen puts it in his book, Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assult on Humanity: “Our time, dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, has been afflicted by one mass murder after another, so frequently and, in aggregate, of such massive destructiveness, that the problem of genocidal killing is worse than war.”
While human beings have fought wars for at least the past 7 or so millenia, what is different in the 20th century is the scale and impersonality of our weapons’ potential. Genocide has become a household word. In the 20th century, such mass murders based on the illusion of race, ethnicity, religion, and/or nationhood have been carried out with sophisticated, modern weapons, as well as with machetes. Drone warfare is just one example of how we can attack and kill invisible, unseen foes without the adversary ever looking their so-called enemies in the eyes. Civilian deaths are considered normal and even justifiable when such weapons and others are used. Further, the potential for a nuclear holocaust is never far away despite the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. The mass media produces stories that feed fear and paranoia about terrorism, violence, and devastation of all kinds. Our children are fed a regular palette of violent video games and television.
In the face of these images, events, and problems, it is no wonder many believe that the only way out is through a mass apocalypse or the wholesale destruction of the planet itself! Yet I find great hope in both the escalating severity of these problems, as well as in what I see as the ultimate point of Native American prophecies.
While some have interpreted the end of the Mayan calendar to indicate catastrophic, apocalyptic end times, others say that we are simply transitioning into a new world. In this interpretation, we will enter the new 6th world at the end of 2012 and will experience an era of unprecedented growth, compassion, and peace–a golden age. The spirits in Black Elk’s vision show him how he will through the powers they give him, bring balance back to the Earth: “A good nation I will make live./This the nation above has said./They have given me the power to make over.”
As a shamanic healer and someone who has worked on my own healing for almost 2 decades, I know that conditions often get worse before they get better. Psychotherapist Carl Jung said that neurosis and even psychosis are signs that the psyche is seeking balance. Similarly, the Hopi and other Native peoples insist that humanity has a choice: we can turn the tide and make different choices. The critical question then is: how much worse does it have to get before we get it?
Sun Bear and many other messengers of the end of an age say that a large part of what is needed to change the course of events is to change our consciousness. What does this mean? If we define consciousness to mean our state of mind and all that we hold in our visions for ourselves and the rest of the world, then we must challenge the paradigm of fear and greed that has so dominated our world for many millennia. Students just starting my university class on Gandhi and the Native American peacekeepers often say to me that nonviolence is not possible. Like the frog boiling to death in the proverbial beaker on a stove, they believe that the violence in our world is inevitable and that the best we can do is to manage it.
Yet, when my students read the writings of peacekeeping of Native teachers, they begin to understand a deeper and even simple truth: peace begins within. We must look deep inside for the source of fear and anger in our own consciousness. Sun Bear and Wabun Wind write: “I find that there is a great hunger in people to find out about ways in which to heal themselves; first themselves, you see, then they can really help others and the Earth. That’s why I stress the need for every person to take real responsibility for their own life.” The Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo writes in Voices of Our Ancestors: “Destruction or peace: it is your choice what message is amplified. Recognize the thoughts arising in your own mind. Weed thoughts of greed and anger from the garden of your mind. Cultivate what is beneficial and generous. The crystal heart of the Earth sings, ‘Help me renew the waves and the atmosphere.’ You may assist by purifying your thought, word, and deed.”
I consider my job to be part of shifting our lens–and therefore our consciousness: like Gandhian scholar, Michael Nagler, author of The Search for a Nonviolent Future, and Sun Bear, I believe that we simply are not told and therefore do not know the myriad stories throughout history when humans chose to live in balance with the Earth and in peace. When we have chosen peaceful means of conflict resolution over revenge.
Anatoly Isaenko and Peter Petschauer write about the longstanding conflicts in the Caucasus—the homeland of the now infamous Chechens who are embattled against Russia. They tell the story of another ethnic group in that region—the Ossetians. Due to ancient customs of hospitality and respect for others, both so-called enemies and friends—when “the threat of inter-ethnic conflict arose, the authoritative eldermen from kunac families, who were frequently connected to different ethnic groups as a result of numerous intermarriages, were asked to enter into preventive negotiations. During these talks, the mediators asked both sides to articulate their demands openly to each other and to trade insults. It was thought that this openness would let ‘the bad spirit, i.e. the negative emotions and suspicions, out.’ Prominent and skillful mediators were greatly respect4ed in all ethnic communities and were invited to reconcile even blood vendettas.” During the Soviet period, this practice was almost forgotten, but in the early 90s was resurrected and has prevented the outbreak of inter-ethnic violence several times since.
Many nonviolent movements have turned the tide of potential violence throughout human history–and not just in India. Think about the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by Soviet troops and tanks and the unarmed civilians who flooded the streets and handed out flowers to Soviet soldiers in nonviolent protest. Their actions changed the Soviet government’s plans to oust the First Secretary.
In an example closer to home and in more recent history, the city of Richmond has been involved in an almost decades-long racial reconciliation and trustbuilding effort to heal the legacy of slavery and increased stratification of the haves and have-nots in the wake of segregation. As author of Trustbuilding: An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility, and National Director of Initiatives of Change puts it: “Change emanates from the bottom up. Despite media focus onj racial and ethnic conflict, a grassroots movement is growing in many parts of the United States and across the world. In hundreds of local efforts, diverse groups of citizens are bridging the traditional boundaries of race, class, and culture.”
Yet how many of us are told these stories in school? And if we do hear about them, aren’t we told that they are anomalies? Contrary to the dominant obsession with violence, Native American peacekeepers tell us that efforts at finding nonviolent solutions to conflict and the avoidance of war has been part of human societies for millenia. The Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo talks about the existence of peace villages in times past among the Cherokee and other Native peoples. Peace villages were places where those in conflict could go to find resolution and healing. She says that even a murderer would be welcome there and would be given support to purify and heal himself and then to be given the opportunity to rejoin society.
What would our world be like if we dealt with murderers and other criminals in this way instead of with the baton of retribution and punishment? Nagler points out, as did Gandhi, that we can be taught how to be more peaceful. It is as simple as this. If our schools taught the art of peace and the tools of nonviolent conflict resolution, our world would be a very different place. If every single one of us was taught how to use the tools of meditation and contemplation to help quell turmoil in mind and body, our consciousness would change. If each of us was told that it is possible and, indeed, important to heal our own wounds—and then given the tools to do so—peace might be achievable.