By AARON ROSE, writer and ceremonialist living in Chicago. Having learned many lessons from a commitment to community through her work with non-profit organizations, Aaron is writing a novel focused on a historic Chicago neighborhood and seeking ways to create ceremony for community healing and community building.
This post was written as an assignment for professor Cindy Shearer’s CIA 7091: MFA Interdisciplinary Arts Workshop. As part of a community of artists working across art perspectives, students in this course get the chance to teach each other about their art form(s), practice, lineage and influences, and are challenged to inquire into the interdisciplinary arts as well as forms new to them.
Traveling from Chicago to San Francisco for CIIS weekends, I fly over the country in which I was born, a vast land I barely know. I look out the window at the expanse of western states, their deserts and mountains so different from Midwest prairies and farmland. Perhaps it is the stark emptiness that, amidst the beauty and mystery, accentuates the absence of peoples who lived upon these lands for millennium.
Native communities have largely vanished, and with them, their teachings and traditions. First nation peoples understood the imperative to be stewards of the land, in service to the earth, to survive. Names ring out in distant echoes: the Potawatomi of Michigan, my home state, the Illini of my current home, the Seneca, Sioux, Cheyenne, Navajo nations—one could fill a page and not exhaust the list of tribes whose ways of life emerged from the contours of this country and who have nearly disappeared through physical and cultural genocide. In her essay, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” which we read for our Creative Inquiry workshop, Rebecca Solnit refers to the “hundred rapidly vanishing indigenous languages of California” alone, their words and worldview a reflection of the unique topography of the territory they inhabited.
I think about many things when I consider the course of study I have chosen for my MFA program in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts at CIIS: ceremonial arts, or the ways in which arts have been and can be used to create ceremony: ceremony for individual and collective healing; ceremony for initiation; ceremony for building and sustaining community.
What I am thinking of today, as a consequence of looking out the window of the plane last Tuesday morning, as sunlight and clouds, land and water made Earth collages of otherworldly beauty, is the great debt we owe: the redress to be made to the peoples whose lands were taken and whose cultures were decimated, and the larger restitution we must make to the Earth. For the past dozen years, I have been a student of cross-cultural, earth-honoring medicine traditions: the healing traditions and cultures of indigenous peoples. “Earth-honoring” traditions place the Earth, our home, at the center of their cosmology. As exemplified by the Wintu people of Northern California who Solnit describes in her essay, native languages and cultures developed in sacred, reciprocal relationship to the environment.
We need to realign, to come into balance and right relationship with the Earth: to shift the way we live, the way we cultivate and steward her abundant resources and gifts, from a greed-based culture to one that is rooted in gratitude and respect. We look to farmers to change our relationship to the way we grow food; to designers and planners to create new ways of building and living on the land. We look to body, energy, and light workers to access physical and energetic templates for promoting wellness and healing. We must also look to artists, who have the power to source imagination and inspiration from ancient ways of connecting with universal archetypes and wisdom in order to transform cultural paradigms.
CIIS provides a container for “affinity groups” to create the synergy that will lead to rediscovering and relearning paradigms and modalities to effect these shifts: the space for each of us to bring knowledge, perspective, and skills to the process of reclaiming a relationship to the environment and collective that is reciprocal, co-creative, and sacred. As an MFA student, I seek interdisciplinary collaboration with other artists who reclaim art as the divine connector: an expression of spirit manifest in the physical. As artists, we serve as channels and crucibles for the sacred interplay among the abundant resources, experiences and lessons of this Earth walk. Let us reclaim the magical, mystical dance with the Mother! Through the joyful, sacred call and response of art-making, we work our way back to the life-affirming ritual of gratitude.