Traditional indigenous decision making practices
Welcome to the latest installment of our ongoing conversations around the Council Fire. I refer to this article as The Council Fire-Reloaded, which is a play on the Matrix movies of which I’m a great fan. I recognize many parallels between the Matrix movies and the times that we are living in. However, my primary intention for making this Reloaded reference is to call for a reset of our current world paradigm. A plea for our society to return to our shared ancestral respect for the natural world, and the resurrection of ancient indigenous knowledge.
May we rediscover the true significance of gathering around a council fire and experience the power and potential that awaits us all. Power in the form of ancient guidance, present within indigenous decision making traditions. A universal indigenous method of decision making, that is built upon integrity, sustainability, honoring the needs of both present and future generations.
This article provides the readers with a basic foundation based on traditional indigenous decision making practices. The benefits of adopting these ancient practices are innumerable. I encourage the grassroots implementations of these indigenous principles in hopes that they will spread to every corner of our world. Every gathering is an opportunity for us to bring these traditional teaching back into the collective consciousness of our human family. A Council Fire ceremony will elevate the integrity of our conversations and decision-making processes.
Council Fire ceremony
The Council Fire Ceremony is adaptable to a multitude of situations. A gathering of friends and family may use this knowledge to engage in meaningful conversation and to make decisions. We can utilize the Council Fire ceremony to explore spirituality, discovering wisdom and teachings in an experiential manner. The council fire can be brought to the classroom, the workplace, and anywhere that we wish to introduce a procedure for decision making that serves the highest good of all.
The council fire is the model for equity and justice within all manners of decision making. If we truly desire a sustainable future for all, than we must explore these principles which seek to guard against the seven cardinal vices of mankind. For the council fire, integrity, honesty and a connection to higher wisdom are integral. The wisdom of the ages is available to all who adopt these principles. Of these principles is a shared responsibility to our planet and the well-being of our descendants, the next “Seven Generations.”
Previously, I’ve shared that my knowledge of the council fire had come to me in a shamanic journey. In this Vision, there was a native man who presented himself to me as being the last Chief. The Chief revealed that in life he would come to the council fire and take his place sitting before it. He came to the fire in order to seek the guidance and wisdom from those of the spirit realm. Guidance from the wise ones, all the ancient ancestors, who have crossed the rainbow bridge and are now on the other side camp.
In my Interview with Angela Levesque on Entanglement Radio, we discussed the history of the council fire as being integral to the Iroquois Great law, their system of self governance. The Iroquois Confederacy, The Five Nations was a revolutionary system of governing that had enjoyed a Peace which lasted over 300 years. It was only disrupted by colonization, which brought with it the competing interests of Britain, France, and the Colonists.
The framers of United States Constitution, adopted many of the same governing principles of the Iroquois. However, while the founding fathers looked to the Great Law of the Iroquois as a framework for their newly formed government, they overlooked the nuances of Indigenous spirituality and decision making. This form of spirituality honored the natural world, and provided a solid foundation upon which the Iroquois Great Law was built.
the nuances of Indigenous spirituality and decision making
So what are the basics that we need to know for conducting our own Council fires? Let us begin with every gathering by having all the participants seated in a circle with the fire location to be at the center of this circle. While many of the customs I share with you are flexible and open to improvisation, the circle is not. Imagine if we insisted that every session of our local and federal government were conducted in a circle, how would this affect the dynamics of these meetings?
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… The Sky is round, and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours… Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from Childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. ~Black Elk (1863-1950) Oglala Sioux Holy man
The Circle is orientated to the Cardinal directions
At the very beginning of every gathering, we prepare ourselves through the act of smudging. This can be done before the attendees take their place in the circle. The burning of sage, cedar and sweet grass in a large Abalone shell is a traditional indigenous smudge. Smoke is fanned with a large feather over the body beginning at our crown. All who are present at our gathering are to be smudged. This ritual is done to cast off negative energies. Sweet grass welcomes higher vibrational energies into our ceremony. We are setting a stage, welcoming higher energies, inviting the ascended ones, the ancestors, and spirits of the celestial light realm. Keeping a smudge bowl lightly burning during ceremony is desirable.
The Circle is orientated to the Cardinal directions. Traditionally, the Elders and the master of ceremony, a pipe carrier would be seated in the West direction. Women sat in the Southern hemisphere and the Men in the Northern hemisphere. All in attendance, arranged according to age, the youngest of the group seated in the East direction. There are symbolic reasons to this seating arrangement, along with the intention of balancing the masculine and feminine energies. On the East to West axis sat a Fire Keeper who would be comparable to a court judge. Embodying the archetypal energy of Lady justice, ensuring equity within the circle.
Opening sacred space
Every Council Fire should select a master of ceremony, who begins by opening sacred space. This is to honor the indigenous Spiritual traditions and to create a positive, and protected environment. Organized Religion’s rituals, dogma, and belief systems are not a part of these sacred gatherings. Opening sacred space is a tradition which begins by facing the East direction. Each of the four cardinal directions is faced, moving clockwise. As we face each of the directions the elemental energy of creation is recognized. The elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind are aspects of these creative forces. There were animal archetypal energies also associated with these directions.
Looking then to Mother Earth, expressing gratitude for sustaining us, for providing the basis of our existence, and for all life upon our planet. Then looking above to the sky and heavens, honoring our relatives, the ancestors, the celestial bodies including the moon, star people and star nations of which we are included. The indigenous people also acknowledged a Creator, often referred to as the Great Mystery, or the Great spirit. While looking to the sky, spend a few moments in silence. This is an appropriate time for group members (Fire Keepers) to personalize this experience according to their own belief system, but do so silently.
We walk a fine line within our modern culture and religion, therefore we must be conscious of the potential for creating divisiveness. Religious beliefs are often counter-intuitive to the pursuit of seeking enlightenment through a spiritual path. We come together in real time in order to listen, share and seek guidance collectively. I propose that the indigenous Peoples were extremely humble, as they did not profess to know the heart, mind or characteristics of the Creator. Instead, Indigenous people limited their assertions to what is observable within our natural world.
Care was taken in selecting the wood used in the fire
Once the opening ceremony has been completed, and all members are situated, it’s time to begin. The Fire Keeper who is selected to tend the fire and preside over the meeting, embodying the energy of Lady justice. If the Council Fire is conducted indoors than the fire keeper will simply light a white candle, one that allows the flame to be visible by all in attendance. If the fire is conducted outdoors then there will be greater responsibility. Traditionally, care was taken in selecting the wood used in the fire. Walnut and woods that could cause sparks or create popping were not used. The thinking was that sparks or popping sounds would be a distraction to those in attendance, especially when they are entering an altered state.
Upon lighting the fire, some traditions would elect to sing a song and perhaps even move around the fire, but always in a clockwise motion. This is the time which the fire gains strength, and also to celebrate. It’s a happy occasion to come together, as anticipation also grows. Observe the fire as it goes through its stages, and there will come a point where it will grow friendly. This is the time to turn the focus of all in attendance to the purpose of your gathering.
Thought comes before speech
“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, thought comes before speech.” ~Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) Oglala Sioux Chief
Conversation and all movements around the Fire for that matter are done clockwise in motion. All in attendance have an equal opportunity to share and to ask questions. Another tradition which could be introduced at this time is the talking stick. Depending on the nature of your meeting, this tradition, in essence, means only the one holding the stick may speak. Those that follow may not criticize or speak directly to the last speaker. They may however share their own perspectives on the subject at hand.
Regardless of how the conversation is organized, having respect and integrity is crucial. I encourage you to set some time during the fire to meditate in a shamanic way. This is accomplished by drumming or rattling for about 5-10 minutes while in a relaxed, meditative state. It’s during this time that we allow our consciousness to become altered in trance. The Fire is the symbolic physical representation of the presence of the ancestors, its also a potential portal to the other side camp. We look through the fire and visualize it becoming a gateway to the other side of the spiritual veil. The ancestors, who are in spirit form may choose to communicate directly with us in some manner, as we journey. This communication can occur in many forms, so be open to however it may present to you.
The fire is a living representation of the spirit realm, the ancestors
Once the shamanic journey is over, we ask all who are willing to share their experience with the group. In sharing, each person adds another layer of wisdom to the group’s collective experience. Communication from the ancestors may occur at any time around the council fire. In essence, everything that transpires and all that comes from our mouths at the council fire is done in their presence. The journey is simply an intentional period of seeking greater insight.
When the council fires were called by the Iroquois, it was truly a sacred forum in which to conduct affairs of the Five Nations, (later becoming Six nations). The representatives from each tribe and clan came to the council with great integrity and sense of responsibility. The fire at the center of these meetings, was a living representation of the spirit realm, of the ancestors who were witnessing all the affairs taking place. The pipe carrier who opened the ceremony sent prayers to the creator, in doing so all affairs were being witnessed by the great mystery, the great spirit. In this spiritual setting. it was incomprehensible for the members to lie or come from a place of deception. The Pipe was present when treaties between with the United States government and indigenous Peoples were conducted.
All decisions made within the circle are required to be Unanimous
Of interest, the Fire Keepers/ Lords (representatives) were chosen by the women, the matriarchs of their community. If a council member didn’t represent the wishes of their people, they would be replaced immediately. The council members sought unanimity in all their decision making. A decision was valid only when members within the circle reached a consensus. If a member who was not in strong agreement, they could recused themselves from the vote. This would allow a decision to proceed when the objection was not intended to halt the proceeding. The decision-making process factored in not only the needs of each representatives maternal clan but also the welfare of the next Seven generation.
What I’ve shared with you is a basic foundation based on indigenous practices. It’s a starting point from which I believe we may expand and build further upon. I ask that you take these basic fundamentals, experiment with them in your own council fires groups.
Please share what you learn with us here at Conversations From the Brink, and also the World. Together we can help create a brighter future for our planet, and all life upon her. Ancient Indigenous decision making principles ensure a sustainable future for ourselves and the next Seven generations, A-HO.