September/October 2013
E-Village News
Responding to the Call of the Ancestors
Greetings Village! 

Welcome to the September/October issue of E-Village News! 

Featured in this issue is Part Two of an interview with Malidoma, conducted by Leslee Goodman in 2010 and featured in the archives of her wonderful online magazine, The MOON magazine.

Part One was featured in our previous E-Village News, the July/August issue.  If you missed it, click here.



Once Upon a Time, The West Too Was Indigenous

An Interview with Malidoma Somé by Leslee Goodman


Goodman:  I'd like to talk a little bit more about initiation.  We in the West have gone generations without consciously initiating anyone.  What role initiation should serve in a functioning society, and what are we missing without it?


Malidoma We have to first understand what initiation means.  It's a rite of passage from one stage of life to another.  Therefore it's an inescapable experience.  Each person must have one.  The absence of formal initiation in the West is why people create their own informal initiations, such as young people engaging in all sorts of reckless behavior they might not survive.


Goodman:  Such as what?


Malidoma:  Maybe a drug addict is really going through their own form of initiation.  It's just that it's a never-ending one.  An alcoholic may be trying to break into a different state of reality, a form of initiation; it's just that it's a never-ending one.  The same applies to any kind of risky, dangerous initiative we can take that brings us to the edge of danger, death, like going to war. When formal initiation is absent, people feel obligated to make one.


In a functioning society, initiation serves the greater good of raising consciousness towards one's purpose.  The indigenous worldview is that life is purposeful, and it is not just about having a job and making a living. It has more to do with a personal mission that contributes to the state of the world.  So finding one's purpose is the primary thing in initiation, and a complementary piece has to do with responsibility towards community, towards village, towards culture.  The simple indigenous formula says that we all come into this world with a gift that must be given to the world.  We undergo initiation to discover our gift, along with how to share it.


Keeping the old ways

Once upon a time, the West was indigenous. Whatever happened to that path and those teachings?  Was the Western path so bad that it had to be completely destroyed and replaced?  How could it be that the past that served for so many thousands of years is now irrelevant?


There is a fundamental flaw in the radical rejection of past practices in the name of civilization or progress.  The biggest challenge of the West is how to return to old practices that are Nature-based and that open the door to the generation's desire to experience the magic of this world and to appreciate the beauty behind that magic.


Goodman:  Throughout your book, you have a much more living and vivid relationship with your ancestors than most Americans, who have no relationship with their ancestors.  They're dead.


Malidoma:  And gone.  But in the indigenous world view, the structure of a society must at all costs take into account the dead as well as the living. As far as the living are concerned, at the far end of the spectrum are the elders, and at the other end are the young ones.  In the middle, are the majority of people, each one fulfilling their life purpose and sharing their gifts, qualities, and abilities.


For me, without my relationship with my grandfather, I wouldn't be who I am today.  I grew up seeing him as more than a father.  He was a role model, a person so versed in magic, the kind that I was excited about, my whole universe was molded by him.  My gratitude for who I am goes directly to my grandfather, who was an elder not only for me, but for my entire village.  He was a representative of the core values of the culture, and recognized as such.


When I go from that to a culture where "elder" means "elderly" and weeded out of society and confined to a minimum security retirement home, I start to see that this is another of the ills of modernity.  We cultivate a perpetual youth culture and those who fail to stay young are eventually asked to get out.  They're lured sufficiently well that they often accept it, perhaps even joyfully, although I don't know what's going on in their psyche.  But I imagine that a grandparent who has grandchildren and who ends up in a retirement home, or a care facility, must feel very strange at not being able to be with his or her loved ones.  This is a subject worth revisiting.  We need to deeply consider and rediscover the beauty of being old, with the goal of eventually erasing the concept of "elderly" and keeping "elder," as a person who has "been there" and who can hold the light for the younger generation trying to find the bigger picture.  They can become like the North Star that the younger generation keeps an eye on so that they don't miss their path.




Goodman:  My cosmology says that the world is governed by a beneficent intelligence, and although I realize this may be a one-sided version of reality, it's the one I hold on to.  For example, my husband and I own 40 acres of land in rural Washington, and we love to watch the hawks and the eagles; but I don't like to see them eat a mouse or marmot, because I also love mice and marmots.


Malidoma:  (Laughing) How sweet.


Goodman:  But how unrealistic.


Malidoma:  Yes, the nice beautiful eagle remains so until you see it using an innocent mouse as a meal.  All of a sudden you don't know what to do with the beauty.


Goodman:  Right, and I apply the same concepts to my cosmology.


Malidoma:  Right.  This is where we encounter the whole issue of paradox and the mystery of living.  How is it that something so beautiful can be so violent?  Or, how can something we love so much be associated with actions that are so repulsive?  We forget that the reality of the eagle is not your reality.  When you put yourself in the shoes of the eagle that you love, you will find that from the eagle's perspective the meal of mice is quite attractive.  It's part of the bountifulness of the world.  Your cozy acreage is actually a Garden of Eden for all of these contradictions to take place.  And that is the beauty of all things-if we are willing to allow ourselves to contribute to that bounty.  If we can see ourselves as nourishment to the beauty that we see, then the beauty that we see can also be nourishment to us.


Goodman:  You mean we have to be willing to be eaten or consumed.


Malidoma:  That's right.  If you cannot offer yourself as a meal to the eagle, or bear, or whatever it is that you love, then it is impossible to fully understand the cycle of birth and death.  I want to emphasize that it is an indigenous attitude to see oneself as an offering, just as everything else that we see is a gift to us.  It is not healing, or constructive, to see yourself as only a recipient of the beauty that is around.  You must also be a gift to that beauty.


This is how we can long for initiation, but at the same time, long for safety.  This shows our humanity.  We don't need to make initiation safe before we will get into it, because then it stops being initiation.  Instead, we must realize that the moment of trepidation, of fear, and all of the contradictions we feel, are signals that we're completely human, and as any human, whenever we enter the unknown we are in this kind of emotional field.  We love to talk about spirit, but we cannot predict what we are going to do when we are face-to-face with it.


Back in the early '80s I took someone from the U.S. to Burkina Faso.  He wanted so badly to see proof that the other world existed.  He was so eager and sincere and insistent that I finally succumbed.  We went to my village and up into the hills and the gatekeeper opened the gateway, and all of a sudden the rocky granite wall of the cave melted away and opened up to a new horizon where a huge other world was in full swing.


Another World


He lost it.  He totally panicked.  He screamed, "This is a trick; this cannot be!"  But instead of saying it calmly, or curiously, he was running down the hill away from it as fast as he could go.  I stood there with the elders feeling rather stupid, because they were looking at me as if to say, "Didn't you say this guy was ready, that you trusted him?"


Years after, I realized that it was not his fault.  He had an idea of how the other world should look.  But when the other world showed up the way the other world is, he had no way of fathoming it. That should have been respected.  It's just that I didn't realize that behind his eagerness was an already made-up cosmology, an idea that the other world would look a certain way, and a certain way alone.

If the other world had looked that way, perhaps he would have knelt down and bowed in front of it and said, "Now I can go on with my life."


So it's important to honor the fact that our longing for the other world is to be checked against our idea of the other world, and also against the kind of expectations we have become familiar with because we live with them every day. We must respectfully notice where we are with respect to the all-inclusiveness of the universe.


Goodman:  I'd like to talk to you about sustainability.  James Howard Kunstler wrote in The Long Emergency: "The collective imagination of the (American) public cannot process the notion of a non-growth economy, even though the limits to growth are visible all around us."  Yet so-called primitive peoples have practiced sustainable economies for thousands of years.  What changes are necessary for "developed" peoples to move their economies from growth-oriented capitalism to no-net-growth sustainability?


Malidoma:  Major collapse.  [Laughs]  Seriously, it will take major collapse; the recession didn't go far enough.  You see, humans are willing to change, but only when change is the only alternative left to them.  They only change at the very edge of the precipice.  Now that we think we're "recovering" from the recession, we're back to our same old practices, having made a few cosmetic changes here and there, but basically continuing with the same kinds of mistakes.  So any return to an ancient mode of living will require first a collapse of capitalism; some kind of overwhelming evidence that capitalism is unworkable.  Communism collapsed, and because it was the antithesis of capitalism, capitalists believed its collapse was a vindication of their belief system.  But it's not inconceivable that capitalism will also collapse.  It will become too old and dysfunctional to continue and will have to be retired, one way or another.


But at this juncture, to get to a place where this kind of change can happen, we'll have to increase the number of people who are spiritually conscious, or ritualistically inclined.  These are the people who will eventually gather together at the gates of the sacred, reach out to forces that are far superior to us with all our intellect and creativity, and seek support from these forces in order to dismantle the situation here that maintains the status quo.


Mother Earth Ritual 

I cannot say that there is a clear recipe that can order our transition to a more sustainable society.  The recipes that exist do not belong in the hands of those who are profit-oriented-who are trapped within this rather narrow frame of mind and cannot really even increase their visual horizon to include a different way of existing as a society and a culture.  These minds and spirits will have to be affected by forces much higher than us, and I'm talking about ancestors, Spirit, Nature, whatever you want to call it.  These are the forces that must show their intelligence in the form of an alteration in the human psyche so that we can see the depths of the vicissitudes associated with a practice that is not life-giving-and by that I mean capitalism.


Until that happens our responsibility is to continue fine-tuning our relationship with the other world and deploying a greater sense of humility. Part of what robs us of an intense, productive relationship with the other world is our sense of grandiosity.  We behave as if we've got everything under control. This does not work; we're lying to ourselves.


Goodman:  The indigenous capacity to see the natural world as enchanted has obvious implications for treating it with respect. Yet many would counter that indigenous peoples exploited the natural world to the best of their technological capacity.  Given unlimited technology, what would be a proper attitude to treat the world respectfully?


Malidoma:  I'm sorry; I need to interrupt.  We have a real problem here.  We accept terminology as accurate that bears further consideration.  We say we have unlimited technology, for example, but if our technology was that good, we would have solved the human predicament.  Obviously, we have not.  And we think that technology is a forward promise-that down the road, technology will resolve all our problems.  We don't pay sufficient attention to the fact that technology often presents worse side-effects-side effects so bad that we should question the value of it.  And we also forget that thousands of years ago people were in touch with a kind of technology that had no environmental side-effects capable of threatening the continuity of humankind.  Yet it doesn't seem as if it is inspiring us sufficiently to begin approaching technology with a bit of suspicion, and exploring real alternatives-non-Cartesian, non-Newtonian technologies that could get us from Point A to Point B without environmental side effects.


What is the technology behind the pyramids that is not worth pursuing, but instead we should pursue internal combustion engines and fossil fuel technologies?  We need to broaden the horizons of our perception.  I don't want to fall into simple slogans like "going green."  The world has been green from the get-go.  We've taken it the other way.  There's nothing new about "going green."  It's a return to the old.  But I want to suggest that somehow, we are not creative enough in areas such as the possibility of a parallel technological pathway that is completely devoid of side effects-illness, pollution, biological disintegration, or even the extinction of species.  If we're interested in the continuity of humankind, we might consider that there may be ways of achieving technology that are free from the claws of profit-based mentality and at the same time can be extremely useful to better a society that is more aware, more focused on the cosmos, on dimensionality, as opposed to a society focused on consumerism and the production of toys and trash.


When I go work with a shaman in my village and he takes me to a cave, says a few words, and opens a portal to another world and walks right in and back out again, I have to ask myself, "What kind of technology is that?"


When this same shaman lifts himself off the ground, that is to say, levitates, and leads me through a ritual from that position, I have to wonder, "What kind of technology is that?"

African shaman performing levitation
African shaman performing levitation


When I go to work with another shaman who is capable of walking on water, I have to wonder, "What is the buoyancy that enables him to float?"  And so on, and so on.


There is indeed technology that does not antagonize the integrity of the environment we live in, and in fact, draws energy in such a way that it honors the magic dimension of the environment.  The examples I've given are things I've witnessed that have moved me.  But the modern versions of capitalism and technology have grown so grandiose that they are unwilling to break through the narrowness of their own thinking to explore other alternatives that might much better serve human consciousness and the world.


That's why the elders sent me to the West.


Upcoming Events

Divinations in Toronto, Canada
November 7-8 and November 11-12
COST:  $250 (prepaid & nonrefundable payment)
For more info & to schedule an appointment, contact Theresa Thomas at or call at 902-441-4573.

Awakening:  An Evening Talk with Malidoma
Thursday, November 7th @ 6:30-9 pm, Toronto, Canada
Venue:  Steelworkers Building, 25 Cecil St., Toronto, ON M5T 1N1
Advanced Tickets:  Online at
Cash at Wonderworks, 79 Harbord St., Toronto, M5S 1G4
Advanced:  $25 Regular, $20 Unwaged, $15 for Beyi Registrants
At the Door:  $30
For more details click here

BEYI Ritual in Toronto, Canada
November 8-10
COST:  $440 ($397 for couples)
Venue:  Children's Peace Theatre, 305 Dawes Road, Toronto, ON M4B 2E2
For more info, contact Isabelle King at or call at 416-400-1820.
For more details click here

Divinations in Ojai, California
November 22-25
COST:  $250 (prepaid & nonrefundable payment)
For more info & to schedule an appointment, contact Susan Manchester at or call at 303-746-5358.

Ritual Workshop at Jackie's on the Reef, Negril, Jamaica, W.I.
January 7-11, 2014
COST:  $1,800
For more info and to register, contact Jackie Lewis at or call at 718-469-2785.
For more details click here

Divinations in Negril, Jamaica, W.I.
January 12-13
COST:  $250 (prepaid & nonrefundable payment)
For more info & to schedule an appointment, write to

Keynote Speaker, 10th Annual Kaua'i Wellness Expo, Lihue, Kaua'i, Hawaii
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Kaua'i War Memorial Convention Center
For more info, write to or call 808-652-4328.
For more details, click here

Guest Speaker, Consciencia International Congress, Peuebla, Mexico
February 21-22, 2014
For more info, write to
For more details, click here or call 52 (222) 237-0835/01 800 831 20 76.