The Final Belt¶
We start, always, with gratitude. I thank this life, which is not mine, but which I have been given to live. I thank my mother for bearing me, and thank the many women who raised me. I thank each and every woman - born and unborn - for giving life. I thank the sea and the sand and the great dune trees outside my window for watching over these words as they roll across the page. I thank the great cycles of water which make up everything and hold the flowing memory of us all, reminding each of us that everything is in worship, always. Gratitude just makes us more aware of this simple truth.
Though I am not a Native American, I too hail from a matrilineal culture: there is a call in this Jewish blood I was gifted in my mother’s womb to which I cannot help but respond. We are People of the Book. In Arabic, they call us haadu or yahudi: those who have repented and been guided to the right path. What is this path? Surrender; then love, honesty, trust, and conduct.
I acknowledge that I cannot write the full truth. You must read it for yourself: it is inscribed on the guarded tablets of your own heart. However, I will tell you the story of the Black Wampum Belt as honestly as I can, and trust that you will forgive me my limitations.
Council begins, as I have, with thanks. Thanks for Sky Woman, whose body we are within and which we see from the inside when we look up into the milky swirl of stars above us every night. Thanks for Grandmother Moon and Mother Earth. Thanks for the water from which all is made: this one, great current of endless life. Thanks for each other, and all the means of our survival on Mother Earth; all the medicines with which we are constantly provided. You and I, too, are medicines: healing balms for our ancestors, just as they are healing balms for us.
In particular, Kaisitenserio gives thanks for the corn, a plant medicine engineered by the women of old to sustain us all. They still grow their own, and he is sitting there reciting his gratitude and reading a particular cob which he turns over in his hands, occasionally passing it to Edith (who is translating all he says into Spanish) to hold and read as he lights more sage in the bowl sitting between them. Smoke and words and thanks mix, separated though we seem to be by these screens behind which we all sit.
Edith can translate into either French or Spanish, but many people from South America have joined today. It is Reconstitution Day: when the Eagle and the Condor fly together. The Spanish rhythms dance over the English words and play in the spaces between until Kaisitenserio finishes his thanks and approaches the camera with the corn in his hands. He holds it up to each of our screens, spread across the world, and shows how one, single kernel has grown between all the other neat rows of corn, insisting on its unicity and pushing three kernels in both rows above and below it slightly up or down.
“This is the story of all life,” he says. “Everything emerges from One. We are one human family. It doesn’t matter where on Mother Earth you have appeared, what colour you are, what you believe, or who you think you are. We are one. And then, there is also duality. Look,” he points to the two rows of three kernels, each slightly displaced. “Look: two from one. This is how it works.”
He holds the cob in front of the camera for a few moments more. There is complete silence.
Kaitsitenserio returns to his seat. “The non-native people have forgotten how to read these signs. They think it’s complicated. But all you need to know is right here, right around us. For me, given how I was raised by my mother, this means everything.” Here, immediately, are two great lessons of the council and, indeed, of indigenous ways of being in this world.
First, a deeply intuitive observation and awareness of every aspect of one’s environment at every level: the physical, material, emotional, psychological and spiritual (for they are not separate, but bleed into one another, like all the different parts of our own body). Second, the embedding of this acute observational awareness in a cosmological narrative structure which can place any sign and render it meaningful in a collective sense (though it relies on individuals to take responsibility for seeing honestly).
Kaisitenserio then offers us all a riddle: in the Great Law of Peace and the Two Row Wampum protocols it is related that, when an individual who knows the Law senses imminent danger to the Nations Rising and Living, they must climb to the top of the Tree of Peace and survey the landscape. Rendered literally: they have to go through the Law to see if there is precedent for the current situation; reaching the top of the tree means going through the whole Law.
If that individual reaches the top, looks out to the horizons, and sees that there is indeed an imminent threat to the Nations Rising and Living, it is their responsibility to warn all the people. However, and here is the riddle, what if there is no-one left to warn? What if everyone has left the House, has wandered away from the Home Fire and cannot hear the warning call?
He opens this riddle to the floor and various disembodied voices echo in from around the globe. Each offers something, but does not crack the full code. After many orations, Kaisitenserio gives his answer. That individual must call everyone home, back into their own heart. His longhouse is not your home, but everyone needs to return to their own home; that place where your being is most familiar. The analogy offered is one of muscle groups in the body. Each group is different, and each person must return to their respective group in the fingers and the palm and the wrist and the forearm etc., while keeping in mind that it remains one body within which we all exist.
The Black Wampum Belt¶
Later on, after discussing what he feels the actual threat is (it’s the Covid-19 vaccine, a claim to which I will return), he comes to the raison d’être for this council. Hanging over the table in front of him are a few belts made from wampum shells. He selects one made entirely from black (or purple) wampum shells and holds it up for all to see. This is the final belt. For those who know the Law, who have cultivated the kind of acute, intuitive observational skills above, it is a terrifying sight.
It speaks of a world deeply out of balance, one whose mind is entirely male-dominated (the black wampum shells are the males). It speaks of a world which is all about the abuse of power, profit, extraction, greed, commodification, and conflict. It is the last warning sign the native people have to offer, and it has not appeared for a whole cycle, or Great Year (~25,772 years). Kaisitensrio says it was activated the day before this council.
Of course, “final” has to be understood in the context of the cosmology we began with: one that intuits great cycles and was aware of something as subtle as the precession of the equinoxes long before the development of telescopes or modern astronomy. This belt is not “the end”. The warning it offers is one about what kind of mind we take with us into the next cycle: one that is patriarchal, conflicted and male-dominant, or the “Good Mind” we ask our ancestors to guide us back to. There is one more second to go before midnight, in which we have the chance to catch this belt or let it fall to the ground and start a Great Year which we will not survive.
Two Rows, One Belt¶
Later on, Kaisitenserio discusses the Two Row Wampum Belt, which signifies the treaty between the British Crown and the people of Turtle Island (what North America was originally named). This is a belt of white (female) wampum shells, with two rows of black shells down the middle, slightly separated. It tells of the two streams of life, like two rows of corn on a cob: the native and non-native, and their agreement to live and let live; to occupy the same land without interfering in each other’s affairs.
I tell this part for two reasons. First, this belt offers a narrative response to the Black Wampum Belt. For too long, we have been focussed on the male mind which insists on separation, on this stream of life and that one, and their independence. What about the singular, white background on which both are set? Is this not what it means to restore Woman to her rightful power? A unified world. Duality must always exist - the corn shows that, as does literally any human experience within space and time - but it is always a question of how we choose to observe. Are we looking at separate streams, or are we seeing what lies beneath both, without repressing the fact that there are indeed differences in this world? My teacher calls this differentiated sameness: see with the eye of unity or truth, without denying the eye of law and conduct. It is only both together which give us reliable vision.
A Corrupted World¶
Second, it speaks to the dissonance I experienced, about which I must write honestly in order to render my account in full. Given that there are these two separate streams in the world of space and time - the native and the non-native - Kaisitenserio makes the claim that the most obvious difference between them is corruption. The non-native world is one, extended sign of corruption. I don’t differ with this. I am, in addition to being born Jewish, a white South African man. We are the worst of the worst. We are the only people in history to legislate separation, or apartheid as we called it in our language. We perpetrated crimes against humanity for hundreds of years on the tip of the continent from which all humanity comes. What we did here is abominable.
However, it is also true that we can only recognise in others what is already within ourselves. If you see another as angry, jealous, envious, covetous, violent or corrupt, it is only because those possibilities exist within you too. If you posit that corruption only exists outside the stream of your life and way of being, then that is the thing itself which invites corruption in. Trust a white South African man to know this experientially. A truly whole being sees that corruption, weakness, infection, decrepitude, decay, and death are all a part of the single, endless current of life, no matter which stream that current flows through.
I am left with a very different sense of the Covid-19 vaccine: it is a wonder of our ever-unfolding understanding of life at every level, as well as our ability to share and help each other in times of crisis. We need only go back to the point about our mothers and corn: we have been genetically modifying corn for at least 5000 years, consistently getting ever more precise. Where exactly is the line between acceptable and unacceptable modification? To me, seeing the vaccine as a threat is based on a misreading of corruption.
This is not to say that gene-editing technologies do not raise ethical concerns: they very much do and we need to address them together. My sense is that we require native understanding in order to set the intentions, goals and ethical boundaries for such research (which is actually the most challenging part and so is something modern science has avoided, to its own detriment), while continuing balanced research that is reproducible, peer-reviewed, and falsifiable.
So, where to from here? Well, to finish the story: there was another two and a half hours of people from around the world sharing aspects of their lives and experiences, which was deeply moving and is not mine to share here. In addition to acute, intuitive observation and grand, cyclical, cosmic narrative; the practical emphasis on consensus and hearing every single voice in the circle is the last critical learning this council gave to me, for which I am eternally grateful. The Two Row Wampum way and The Great Law of Peace prepares the ground for a truly beautiful way of being.
Still, if not the Covid-19 vaccine, then what is the real crisis? My submission: our inability to stop. To stop doing and just be. To stop the mind totally, be it native or non-native, woman or man. Stop. Sink into silence and go to the heart of your own being. There is no separation there; no sickness, nor any cure; nothing natural or modified; no peace nor any conflict.
It is our inability, each and every one of us, to access this zone of consciousness within which is the actual crisis of our time. I read the real message of this council as being the answer to that first riddle: come home, dear one. Come back to the heart’s fire. It is time to begin again.