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Wisdom from the Origins Conference

Native Skeptic

Noah Nez

Volume 22.3, Fall 2012

A special engagement called the Wisdom from the Origins conference put on by the Source for Educational Empowerment and Community Dialogue (SEED) Graduate Institute will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, September 13–17, 2012. The official flyer of the event asks questions such as, “Are you ready for the changes of 2012 and beyond? What can the Mayan calendar and other prophecies tell us about this time?” This convention is an opportunity for those interested in looking at the future through cultural prophecies. Much of this seems to operate with the premise that “the Mayan calendars have been very effective vehicles for contemplating the larger cycles of time we move with and through. . . .” The flyer claims to be a cooperative effort to bring diverse groups of culture together by providing “an opportunity to rebirth a wisdom consciousness based in the natural rhythms of the Earth” (SEED Graduate Institute 2012a).

There is no real misunderstanding of what people are getting at these conferences, except for when they go outside of their realms of spiritual beliefs and enter the domain of science. This particular conference is described as being more of a “continuation” of previous gatherings referred to as the “Language of the Spirit” dialogues. These meetings are professed as being an attempt “to bring understanding between Indigenous ways of knowing and Western science.”

Indigenous elders, social visionaries, ecologists, philosophers, and healers with different backgrounds from around the world are asked to help prepare for the future by taking pages out from the tribal culture system of religious belief. SEED is attempting to examine and discuss the prophecies associated with various cultures to reconcile them under one common theme by declaring that “we see this time as an unprecedented opportunity to co-create our collective future; a time when people of all traditions and races are called to come together to explore and rediscover what it means to be human.”

History of SEED

SEED was initially run as an “open university,” not for credit, but for those with a personal interest in the course material. It was not until more recently that the SEED Institute began to sponsor the event known as the Language of Spirit Conference.

This eclectic group featured physicists, elders, linguists, philosophers, authors, and even an astronaut. According to the SEED website, “The 1992 dialogue coincided with the 500th year since Columbus came to Turtle Island, and completed a cycle in which indigenous, wholistic [sic] thinking, once suppressed and disregarded, reemerged on equal footing with leading edge Western science.”

SEED considered these series of meetings to be “Science and Cosmology conferences” that helped branch out into their latest programs, one being the Wisdom from the Origins. The SEED Graduate Institute states that, “The master’s program in Sci­ence and cosmology (Fire) integrates Native science and new scientific models of wholeness, including quantum theory, general systems theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory with comparative philosophy and religion, mythology, depth psychology and cosmology.”

By no means is this a clear definition of science; however, it is an indication of what they believe it to be. There is a recurring theme of mentioning cosmology and science, whereas “cosmology” appears as the more general definition, the study of the universe. This more broad usage of cosmology by SEED incorporates philosophical and metaphysical questions that are not relevant to science. A religious cosmology, if you will, attempting to blur the lines and blend the commonalities found in various religious creation myths and brandish them as useful tools to inform our future lives as human beings. It seems they are operating under the premise that these spiritual beliefs of our ancestors gave us a better understanding of the universe or our place in it. The major concern is that there is no real standard for “knowing” or “knowledge” as described by SEED. They do acknowledge the abundance of misunderstandings surrounding the subject of the Mayan calendar. But they overlook or ignore the inaccuracies and see it as “an opportunity to educate and prepare the people for the times we are in, and to rebirth a wisdom consciousness based on the natural rhythms of the Earth.”

Under the section, “The SEED Vision for Original Education,” the following intro­ductory quote from Mark C. Taylor reflects the basis for their proposed education model, in which a claim gets made about the current state of higher education in America: “Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields and publication in journals read by no other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans)” (SEED Graduate Institute 2012b).

The argument that education does not work due to “fragmented thinking” serves as the motivation for this idea that we need to unify beliefs through “participatory thought.” Which is also the common motif found throughout the official website of the SEED Institute and their offered programs as described in their following vision: “What is needed is an original model of education that is coherent, cohesive and whole in itself, in which all aspects of a school are in relationship to each other. SEED is seeking funding to establish a graduate institute with such a structure, bringing together four lodges of learning in one whole: Science and Cos­mology; Ecology; Ex­pres­sive Arts; and Inte­gral Healing” (SEED Graduate Institute 2012b).

There does seem to be some genuine interest in knowledge. SEED believes that its brand of open-mindedness holds an advantage to other methodologies because, “. . . dialogue has the potential to diffuse seemingly intractable dichotomies.” But they never establish any standards of logic or reasoning. Therefore, every idea is just as good as the next according to this system. For example, they offer this almost skeptical sounding passage describing the answer to this type of “fragmentary thinking” according to physicist David Bohm, “He developed unique method of dialogue that asked participants to suspend their present assumptions and beliefs and listen deeply for the purpose of understanding, rather than to convert another to one’s point of view” (SEED Graduate Institute 2012b).

Bohm was said to have postulated that this “participatory consciousness” might be found in tribal societies. While the idea of opening a dialogue between various cultures does appeal to me, through this lens the enticing allure of pseudoscience becomes stronger and the potential for being susceptible to falsities grows. These science dialogue initiatives between Native American elders and “Western scientists” seem to introduce more uncertainty and confusion into their concepts of the universe and our place in it. The Integral Healing program that SEED provides introduces alternative modalities of healing from the Ayurvedic Institute and the Institute of Chinese Medicine teaching to view the human body as being connected with the environment in a mystical way.

A quick search on the background of some of the speakers and sponsors reveals much of the same brand of pseudoscience that is found permeating through the entire institute, its offered programs, and the Wisdoms of the Origins conference. Gregg Braden is an author known for his books attempting to bridge the gap between science and spirituality, with titles like The God Code, The Divine Matrix, and Fractal Time: The Secret of 2012. Author Barbara Marx Hub­bard has been praised by Deepak Chopra as “the voice for conscious evolution of our time.” The list of sponsors also includes the Institute for Noetic Sciences and the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine. Both of these writers and the mentioned sponsors rely on the complexities found in quantum physics to overcomplicate and maneuver around the fact that these metaphysical and philosophical notions are not science.

Sometimes people fall prey to the idea that having an answer is better than not having one at all—even if it’s the wrong one. Sometimes people simply stop searching for alternative explanations because they be­come accustomed to the pre-existing ones. When the stories are taken for what they are and examined with the frame of reference in mind of the time and place that people lived, the purpose of each tale comes into focus.

The Cheyenne have an account involving a “great pole” that gets described as being like the ones used for their sacred sun dance, except this one is significantly more impressive and large enough to hold up the entire earth. Their version of “the end of times” is expressed through the story “The Gnawing,” as originally told by Mrs. Medicine Bull (1984):

The Great White Grandfather Beaver of the North is gnawing at that pole. He has been gnawing at the bottom of it for ages and ages. More than half of the pole has already been gnawed through. When the Great White Beaver of the North gets angry, he gnaws at it faster and more furiously. Once he has gnawed all the way through, the pole will topple, and the earth will crash into bottomless nothing. That will be the end of people, of everything. The end of all ends. So we are careful not to make the Beaver angry. That’s why the Cheyenne never eat his flesh, or even touch a beaver skin. We want the world to last a little longer.

The White River Sioux have their own version told through the story, “The End of the World,” illustrated through the life of an old woman, over a thousand years old, who is sitting in a cave next to a fire working endlessly on a blanket while a black dog watches. A pot rests above the fire that the woman gets up to periodically stir, and every time she does so, the black dog pulls out some of the porcupine quills used to make the blanket: “The Sioux people used to say that if the old woman ever finishes her blanket strip, then at the very moment that she threads the last porcupine quill to complete the design, the world will come to an end” (Leading Cloud 1967).

The Brule Sioux culture incorporates a “creating power” into their story, called Remak­ing the World, in which it is revealed that the world we live in today is actually the third created version. In 1974, Leonard Crow Dog (1974) told the story to Richard Erdoes on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. After the first two unsuccessful attempts of starting a new world, the Creating Power says, “Now, if you have learned how to behave like human beings and how to live in peace with each other and with the other living things—the two-legged, the four-legged, the many-legged, the fliers, the no-legs, the green plants of this universe—then all will be well. But if you make this world bad and ugly, then I will destroy this world too, it’s up to you.”

When it comes to Native American be­liefs, the focus is often placed more heavily on the journey than the destination. Cultural stories are often used to encourage or teach others about specific behaviors or life lessons. Stories are simply a way to make learning fun. The more outlandish a story is, the more memorable it will be. But if the cultural relevance is missing from the experience the purpose becomes fragmented and that initial power of the story gets lost as well.


References

Crow Dog, Leonard. 1974. Remaking the World. Re­corded by Richard Erdoes in 1974. In American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 496–499.

Leading Cloud, Jenny. 1969. The End of the World. Recorded By Richard Erdoes in 1969. In American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 485–486.

Medicine Bull, Mrs. 1984. The Gnawing. Recorded by Richard Erdoes with the help of an interpreter. In American Indian Myths and Legends, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 484–485.

SEED Graduate Institute. 2012a. Wisdom from the Origins Conference: The Mayan Calendar and Other Prophecies on the Future of Humanity. Albu­querque, New Mexico. From September 13 to September 17, 2012. Available for download on­line at http://seedgraduateinstitute.org/pdfs/brochure-for-emailing.pdf.

SEED Graduate Institute. 2012b. Source for Educa­tional Empowerment and Community Dialogue (SEED). Available online at http://www.seedgraduateinstitute.org/.

Noah Nez

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Noah Nez is a Native American skeptic living in Arizona; he is a member of the Phoenix Area Skeptics Society (PASS) and author of Native Skeptic, a blog that looks at critical thinking from a Native American perspective.