Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing the congenial, effervescent Charity Ann Ross [or C’ante Was’te Winyan, denoting “Woman with a Good Heart” in the Dakota Sioux language], a woman who lives with one foot in a materialistic, linear universe on which the hegemony of the Western mind sciences are predicated and the other in the animistic, non-material universe of her ancestral tribe, the Dakota Sioux. Her formative environment was rife with seemingly irreconcilable tales pertaining to the fallen goddess named Eve but also to Lakota notions of the “Wakan Tanka,” the Great Mystery (McLaughlin, 1990). Her father is a non-denominational Christian of European descent; her mother, on the other hand, is of exalted Native American blood. Early exposure to conceptual paradoxes and incommensurable worldviews augmented her tolerance for ambiguity–she was never a victim of the rudimentary black-and-white, either-or thinking so esteemed by our logical operative cognition and sees no fundamental problem with a belief system couched in parallel realities. In a labyrinthine universe where many different torches can illuminate the path to “knowledge” and “knowing,” Charity picks intuition over reason.
So what does Charity’s weltanschauung [worldview] actually look like? Above all, Charity’s preoccupation with the mysteries of life is evidenced in her openness to experience, her preferences for novelty, and in the unconditioned, non-judgmental, and undaunted manner she elects to encounter anomalous phenomena. It is animistic, Aeolian, and alive, as her Dakota Sioux ancestors would want her to believe; profound and veridical aphorisms for her are that “All is One” beneath the veil of appearances; that Nature is profoundly interconnected; that Mother Earth is a living being; and that the perceived separation between physical and nonphysical is but an illusion of the senses (McLaughlin, 1990). The paradoxical world of dreams are parallel dimensions, sometimes symbolic and other times quite literal, loaded with immense potential for creativity, self-revelation, and truths about the future [precognition]. What her “psychic opening” has taught her, if anything, is that there may be a mode of being or moral path which precipitates disclosure of cosmic secrets, making ethics more of a judgement-independent truth instead of a socially constructed one.
Astrological prognostications are a reality. Like the ancient astronomer-priestesses of the Cnossian temple-palaces, Charity tracks planetary cycles like lunisolar nutation, the twelve lunar months, the rising and setting of the twelve constellations, and exaltations, conjunctions, and oppositions. Within this esoteric purview the lunar body affects not only the surge of the ocean tides and the mammalian menstrual cycle but also the augmentation and temperance of emotional states. Like her indigenous ancestors and the teachings of many Western esoteric traditions (Goodrick-Clarke, 2008; McLaughlin, 1990) she sees the “signature” of an aesthetically feminine spirit [Venus] in the metal copper; in creatures like the scorpion and the octopus; in gemstones like turquoise and emerald; in the iridescent hues of a peacock’s feathers; and in the qualities of beauty, sexuality, desire, harmony, and tranquility. Experiences of the numinous and unio mystica with the divine are to be had in nature. Like George Gurdjieff (Ouspensky, 2001) and the Magus of Strovolos (Markides, 2003), she believes that through prayer and meditation we can awaken and become aware of hidden powers latent in the unconscious. Like the latter she rejects the dual Christian notion of heaven and hell; there is no punishment, only experience. After corporeal death each human spirit or “wakan” returns to the universal force through the agency of love. Only love remains, she says.
For Charity the experiential dimensions of her majestic dream life are authentic seals of the interconnectedness and underlying unity that her indigenous ancestors believe in. Precognitive visions of “preternatural clarity” litter her dreamlife as seashells litter the shore. She is no stranger to retrocausality; she dreams of a harmonium that her musician friend will receive and the latter rings her up with news that three of her friends have shown up on her doorstep from out of state with a surprise gift, a harmonium they’d discovered at a garage sale. She has a disturbing dream about being on crutches and on the morning after she incapacitates herself by fracturing her ulna. Similarly telepathic projection or mind-to-mind communication are not proto-scientific attempts at understanding cosmological questions about the universe but commonplace experiences offering clues about fundamental harmony and unity. According to Charity, projecting thoughts to another and transdimensional communication between the living and the dead are very possible.
The Cartesian-Kantian epistemological box couching the unidimensional model of time and a materialistic universe touted as true by psychophysical reductionism does not hold profound explanatory powers for her, and so there is ample room for a more meaningful and personally gratifying contextualization of this phenomenon in her personal worldview. An aspect of the human mind is nonphysical, she intimates, and it can function independently of matter under certain intracerebral conditions. Undoubtedly the urge to adopt a particular set of assumptions [theoretical perspective] about mind-matter interaction has always been there, however she prefers to sidestep the potential pitfalls of blindly embracing dogmatic beliefs about religion and eschatology. Like the philosopher Thomas Nagel (2012), she hypothesizes that the universe may be mediated by natural teleological laws and governed in a way which eludes our operative logical cognition but stops well short of theism or supernatural agency.
There is a subtle doctrinal aspect to Charity’s life which extends naturally from her animistic cosmology. The worldview of the Dakota Sioux is couched in pluralistic astral religion and Charity has always felt an intrinsic, yet ineffable pull to this hidden system of knowledge. Horoscopic and predictive astrology is perceived as a practical guide for exploring speculative metaphysical theories about the soul’s salvation, integrity, and its return to the cupola of the heavens. Contrary to the hostile stance that the contemporary physical sciences take towards astrological practice, Charity believes that prognostications for the exact moment of an individual’s birth, known as a birth chart or horoscopos, and a scheme of exaltations and dejections that connect the planets to the zodiacal signs play a seminal role in determining life outcomes. Associated strongly with archetypal qualities [Venus connoting love and passion, Jupiter connoting leadership and kingship, Mars connoting anger and war, the Moon increase and decrease] the relative position of the planets themselves also influences individual temperament. Hence much is predetermined and not acquiescent to the subsequent influence of the environment. Nonetheless the law of antipathies and sympathies between discrete entities in the universe makes possible the harnessing of planetary energies as to load the green dice of Life for the most desirable and auspicious outcome. Keeping moonstone and silver [both presided over by the moon], for instance, may augment one’s capacities for self-reflection and imagination. Turquoise [presided over by Venus] may precipitate the return of romantic love to one’s life. Her sacrosanct altar at home along with her frequent wonderings in natural settings serves this very purpose.
Selfless sacrifice, service, and philanthropy (i.e., being of service to our fellow human beings or giving freely of one’s own self to others) are ethical principles woven into Charity’s life. Her English name, in fact, means just that–philanthropy. She is perspicacious enough to know that individuals with psychic openings often participate in reality through a hermeneutics of the heart and the implicit qualities themselves, as Tarnas (1998) pointed out in his evocatively illustrated thought experiment, are like vibrant sunlight, heartening the ensouled universe to unveil its deepest mysteries. Charity sees a veridical connection between “psi,” evidence of contact with the spiritual world, and leading a moral or ethical life; qualities like non-judgement, disassociation from the intellect and ego-identity, and openness to experience, are salient characteristics of individuals with psychic openings, meaning that higher ethical principles guiding how we should relate to one another could in fact be judgement-independent truths rather than social constructions. Charity believes bringing oneself into alignment with these higher qualities directly influences the level of psychospiritual development attained.
Insofar as the social dimension is concerned, Charity was raised in a predominantly Christian home where habitual visitations to the local church were the norm and Bible studies ardently encouraged. But the affair with ecclesiastical tradition was fleeting and wouldn’t last; in the religiosity and institutionalized dogma that others surrendered to and found meaning in Charity saw a fear-driven, well-oiled propaganda machine designed to strip proselytes of their capacity for rational thought and so in doing manipulate, manage, and maneuver them without their choosing. Moreover, the very different picture of reality she’d stitched together through some very profound anomalous experiences was quite damaging in the long-term; it instigated both crises of belief, and secondarily, contentious battles with more pious members of the family and subsequent estrangement from them. Even though the experiential moorings have been key in the breakthrough and transition to a more animistic worldview–one believed to be a more veracious simulation of the universe–it has come at a cost. Reticence is the norm rather than the exception when it comes self-disclosure and withdrawal a frequent fixture in her interpersonal furniture.
Successful therapy with somebody like Charity who is of mixed-descent would hinge on three important factors: (a) determining her level of assimilation [or lack thereof] with the dominant Christian worldview in America, (b) understanding the differential between animistic and mechanistic cosmogonies, and (c) understanding that knowledge of Native American genocide may have impacted the individual’s emotional and relational style. Even though Charity has no direct connection to her reservation roots, it is clear that participation in ceremony like healing rituals, prayer, and dance are powerful sources of emotional and spiritual support for her. A religious and culturally competent clinician hoping to gain therapeutic traction would encourage self-expression through those modalities. Also, the collectivistic mentality of Indian Americans and their emphasis on feeling-self, values, indirectness, and active listening [a salient feature of Charity’s worldview] bequeaths important information about how a therapist should make ample room for sharing, silence, and self-expression. Because her problems are psychospiritually defined, the solution would have to be rooted firmly within her psychospiritual perspective.
In hindsight the importance of steering away from pejorative Eurocentric perspectives on Indian American history cannot be overstated. Assumptions about inclinations, lifestyles, and communication should be suspended as a talented fiction writer suspends disbelief to minimize the frequency of empathic rupture. Personal identification with the trials, tribulations and collective temperament of a specific tribe should be acknowledged, honored, and nurtured by the treating clinician. Moreover, the latter should take nothing at face value and do everything in his or her stead to acquaint themselves with culturally-sensitive literature pertaining to the individuals own worldview, ritual practices, folklores, and customs. In the end cultural acumen and sensitivity on the part of the clinician may be the difference between successful and fruitless outcomes.
Goodrick-Clarke, N. (2008). The Western esoteric traditions: A historical introduction. Oxford University Press.
Ouspensky, P. D. (2001). In search of the miraculous: Fragments of an unknown teaching. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Markides, K. (2003). The magus of Strovolos: The extraordinary world of a spiritual healer. Penguin UK.
McLaughlin, M. L. (1990). Myths and Legends of the Sioux. University of Nebraska Press.
Nagel, T. (2012). Mind and cosmos: Why the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false. Oxford University Press.
Tarnas, R. (1998). The great initiation. Noetic Sciences Review, 47, 24-31, 57-59.