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Dismantling The Colonial Gaze

Updated: Jun 7



From very early—around four or five years old—I was fascinated by American Indians, and that became my real studying. I went to school and had no problems with my studies, but my own enthusiasmwas in this maverick realm of the American Indian mythologies.

—Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey



EVENT DESCRIPTION: Join us next Tuesday, June 4 at 5PM Pacific, for a Myth Salon on the profound lessons embedded in Native American mythology, guided by the insights of Dr. Norland Tellez, Dr. Dennis Slattery and Vincent Stanzione. This event promises to be a highly charged and controversial exploration of the impact of colonialism and the pervasive influence of the "colonial gaze" on our contemporary worldview. Drawing inspiration from the transcendent passion Joseph Campbell found in Native American mythologies, we will uncover a world of wonder and philosophic insight. Chief Oren Lyons, an Iroquois faithkeeper, beautifully illustrates the unity among indigenous peoples across the Americas through shared themes of thanksgiving, peace, and respect for creation. These fundamental lessons stand in stark contrast to the capitalist culture that prioritizes individual gain and exploits both people and the environment.


The Popol-Wuj, the Sacred Book of the K’iche’-Maya, encapsulates the revolutionary vision of Native American wisdom, advocating for communal harmony with nature and highlighting the importance of collective destiny over individualistic pursuits. As we navigate the intricate histories, narratives, and consequences of colonialism, we will critically examine the lens through which much of our contemporary worldview has been constructed. Our current system, as noted by Dr. Tellez, places profits over people, leading to the ruthless exploitation of our environment, labor, and souls. Within global capitalism, everything, including the soul, is for sale, placing the prodigious wealth of a tiny minority above the common good and even the survival of entire ecosystems.


This Myth Salon invites you to unravel some of the complex knots woven into the fabric of the western world and to consider the opportunities for both personal and cultural transformation. History is constantly being rewritten, and humanity is still in the rough draft stages of its character development. Join us for an evening of deep reflection and spirited discussion.  An extended description of the event can be found below.


FEATURED GUEST: Norland Téllez is an award-winning writer and animation director who currently teaches Animation and Character Design courses at Otis College of Art and Design, Cal State Fullerton. He is also conducting a Life Drawing Lab at USC School of Cinematic Arts. He earned his Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2009 with a dissertation on the Popol-Wuj of the K’iche’ Maya, which he is currently translating and illustrating in its archetypal dimensions as the Wisdom of the Peoples. You can learn more at norlandtellez.com.



 

 

 

Thank you for your support of The Myth Salon and to being enthusiastic about applying your own life to the sustainability and healing of our communities, our cultures, our planet, and the cosmos!  



MYTH SALON PANELISTS


Vincent Stanzione Vincent left his familiar culture and society to embark on a profound experiment in life. Dedicated to reforesting areas devastated by LA Violencia, he became a forest dweller, practicing Zazen and constructing simple adobe and pine structures. Immersed in the languages of Maya K'iche and Maya Tz'utujil, Vincent's journey led him back to Harvard, where his mentor called upon him after he wrote Rituals of Sacrifice: Walking the Face of the Earth on the Sacred Path of the Sun, a compelling narrative of pilgrimage and initiation. Vincent lives myth as a way of mimetic remembrance, embodying ancestral traditions through his deep understanding of myth and its transformative power. He finds joy in intellectual conversations, particularly those exploring the Popol Wuj, myth, and hermeneutics, cherishing these invigorating exchanges that enrich his understanding of the world.


Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California where he taught for 27 of his 55 years in the classroom before retiring. He is the author, co-author, editor or Co-editor of 33 volumes, including 7 volumes of poetry and one novel. Currently he teaches courses online and offers lectures and workshops on myth and culture both on-line and on site at Friends of Jung organizations in the US. For three years he also taught student inmates at a California State Prison where he focused on assisting his students to discover their personal myth, using Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The course was conducted through the mail. He writes op-ed essays on cultural and mythical themes for the San Antonio Express-News and New Braunfels, Texas'  Herald Zeitung. His op-eds and paintings can be viewed on his website, www.dennispatrickslattery.com.


Rosalie Nell Bouck, PhD is an educator and activist whose work focuses on fostering radical social change through myth and narrative. She holds degrees in Mythological Studies, Political Science, and Philosophy. She currently cultivates and teaches courses to the public on counter-colonialist feminine mythologies and gives regular talks on the subject of her doctoral research, Mesoamerican Corn Mythology. Originally from the Colorado foothills, Rosalie  currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina where she lives with her two young children. 


Dawn Eva is the founder of Maiden Mother Crone, a nonprofit focused on rebuilding community by embracing all aspects marginalised by current patriarchal systems. Dawn is a practicing alchemist and artist dedicated to translating metaphysical concepts into tangible experiences and applications. These experiences and applications are created with the aim of consciousness expansion and transformation in mind for both the individual and the wider community. Trained in various schools of wisdom and a member of numerous orders, societies, and guilds, Dawn Eva draws from Hermeticism, Alchemy, Theosophy, and other mystical traditions. She has developed unique frameworks and practices that bridge the physical and metaphysical realms, using artistic practice to explore, understand, and express this abstraction. Her work invites a profound exploration of reality and a reconnection with spiritual essence, fostering a more holistic and enlightened existence.


Michaela Molden is a recent graduate, passionate about storytelling and the performing arts. Having earned accolades for her excellence in storytelling, Michaela is an accomplished writer and actor. During her undergraduate years, she spearheaded various clubs and initiatives focused on stories and mythology, showcasing her dedication to fostering creative communities. Currently, Michaela is working on her debut book while immersing herself in the world of storytelling. She actively engages with the works of others, continuously seeking inspiration and connection within the literary and artistic community.

Dr. Sunil Parab is an Ayurveda practitioner & Indology Teacher from India. His research mainly focuses on Indian Mythology, Indian Philosophy and Indian Folk Deities. Dr. Sunil has been teaching & researching through Sindhu Veda Research Institute since 2014. His project of “Mythology Classroom” that connects Indian Mythology enthusiasts with global Mythology Scholars; is proud to be associated with Mythouse.org for Global Outreach & for Contribution in Global field of Storytelling.



HOST


Dana White, Ph.D. a contributing faculty member to Pacifica's myth degrees and author of numerous volumes on mythology. Over the course of his career, Dana has worked in radio and industrial television, as a vice president of marketing for Merrill Lynch, and as an academic department chair at an art college. He edits and designs books, produces films and motion media for universities, corporations and non-profits, and is a professional photographer with more than 40 books to his credit.He currently produces and hosts the Myth Salon, a venture he co-founded in 2016 with Dr. Will Linn,



MODERATOR


Will Linn, Ph.D., Founder of Mythouse.org, Produces Psychedelic MixTapes for Fascinated by Everything and co-hosts a European TV series called Myths: The Greatest Mysteries of Humanity. He moderates the Myth Salon with Dana White and leads Sermons of the Earth for the Kin Earth Sanctuary.  He is an Associate Producer of Dead Thing and co-creator of the Climate Bootcamp. From 2011-2021, Will led projects for the Joseph Campbell Foundation, and from 2015-2023, he served as a professor and founding department chair for Relativity School—an innovative film and performing arts college in Los Angeles Center Studios.


MYTH SALON


The Myth Salon is all about cultivating community – bringing people and ideas into a delicious convergence every month to explore ideas of substance. Dr. Will Linn and Dr. Dana C White, the indefatigable moderators of our Myth Salon, congregate the mythological community to explore upon this rich and fertile path, and increase the amperage of myth and substance wherever we are. When we nurture and sustain our community relations and involvement, we all benefit! The full playlist of Myth Salons since the Spring of 2020 can be found Here. Special Thanks to the continued support of the Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association.


EXTENDED EVENT DESCRIPTION



The maverick realm of Native American mythologies ignitedthe transcendent passion for mythology that Joseph Campbell is known for. The Native American spirit inspired Campbell to study myth and beyond; it revealed to him a world of wonder and philosophic insight. After all, as Aristotle famously put it, “a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant (whence even the lover of myth is in a sense a lover of Wisdom, for the myth is composed of wonders).” (Metaphysics Book I,Ch2, p. 692, lines 11-22)


Native American Mythologies extend their wonders and wisdom far south of the border, spreading across three subcontinents: North, Central, and South America. Were we to travel with native leaders across these Native lands, we wouldexperience a variety of rituals and customs, strange languagesand symbolism. And yet we would also find that there is a fundamental sense of agreement, a common-sense wisdom, which is everywhere shared by indigenous peoples across theAmericas—and beyond…


Struck by this remarkable archetypal sympathy among Native peoples, Chief Oren Lyons—a faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan, esteemed member of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy)—gives testimony to this profound accord of native American wisdom. When he visited the Maya in Central America, despite not knowing the language, the specific dances, or rituals, somehow “I know what’s going on,” said the Iroquois Chief. “It’s always the same,” he continued, “Thanksgiving to the creation.Thanksgiving to the life-giving forces of the earth.” (Tree Media: Oren Lyons on the Indigenous View of the World 15:20-52). There is a shared archetypal font of wisdom that unites indigenous peoples across the earth. Rather than a secret doctrine reserved for the privileged few, it gives itself out as the plainest common-sense wisdom.


As Chief Lyons reiterated, it comes down to the most elementary lessons of human co-existence, such as the principle of sharing, about which the Council of Iroquois Nations were in “profound agreement,” summing up their treaty with the emblem: “one dish, one spoon.” Everyone deserves one dish, one spoon. No one should go without. Food and shelter, healthcare and education, are all human rights and not privileges. We are all in the same boat. Such are the simple lessons we used to pass to our children: learn to share, don’t fight, make peace. Be grateful to the earth. Respect the natural environment and its biodiversity, respect your elders, etc.


These lessons seem so childishly simple, and yet, as Chief Lyons observes, everything in our capitalist culture is hell-bent on giving us the opposite instruction: think only about yourself, care only for your private gains and benefits, amass more wealth and power. Be content to serve your corporate masters and do not concern yourself with the fate of others. “And they’re rewarded for that” (14: 00-15:07), says the Chief Elder, thus underlining the madness of Western civilization. For the sake of this narcissistic lifestyle, the triumph of hyper-individualism, our society rewards sociopaths and scoundrels.


All native people across the globe seem to be in full agreement with a growing consensus: our present system is committed to the destruction and ruthless exploitation of our environment, our labor, and our very souls. There is nothing that does not carry a price tag within the capitalism, where private profiteering is placed well above the common good— even above the survival of entire peoples, life forms and their ecosystems.


If we are true seekers of Native American wisdom, therefore, we need to be critically aware of the colonial gaze that already frames our study of myth. As we approach native cultures, we must learn to wrestle with our own prejudices and belief systems, powerful ideological fantasies that have been bred into us since we were children playing cowboy and Indians. This objectifying and exoticizing gaze is derived from hegemonic power structures and material conditions which we take for granted in the West. These structures also have a powerful ideological or “spiritual” hold over the Western mind, which is in every way predisposed or “educated” to side with imperialist projects. Smuggling the colonial gaze into the study Native American Wisdom, Western readers will not notice the fatal contradiction and violence of their quest.


The patronizing adoration of indigenous culture, the dismissal of their common-sense wisdom as childish or archaic, all speak to the symbolic violence of the colonial gaze. But this violence of cultural appropriation is only an offshoot of the quite real, murderous violence that has always accompanied colonial projects throughout their history. Placing Native bodies in the killing fields of genocidal conquest, the colonial gaze is by definition in full support of imperialist domination of native peoples and their lands. As the all-seeing eye of “Western interests,” its well-funded capacity to unleash hell on earth is always ready to annihilate anyone standing in its way—not excluding women and children. Accelerating climate catastrophe and socio-economic breakdown, supporting genocidal wars and courting nuclear holocaust, this disastrous mindset is driving us today, full force, to the literal brink of extinction.


In the matrix of this cultural capitalism, Native American wisdom can only appear as the enemy. As Chief Lyons expressed it, “the American structure” is everywhere giving us “instructions” to go directly against the principle of sharing, against the communitarian sense and socialist vision of Native American wisdom. Within cultural capitalism, on the other hand, “you have an instruction that’s contrary—very contrary to this concept [of sharing] if indeed this is what you think is right.” (15:08- 15:17) How do we subvert and dismantle the colonial cage of the imperial gaze? Not without a revolution.


This revolutionary perspective is nowhere better distilled than in the Sacred Book of the K’iche’-Maya, Popol-Wuh or“Book of the Counsel,” “Book of the Community,” “Book of the People,” or as I translate the title, Wisdom of the Peoples, which very well deserves its epithet of the pan-American Bible.  


The book that begins with the planting of U Xe’ Ojer Tzij “Its Root Ancient Word” stirs a common thread of humanity which can be heard across continents. Rather than a doctrine, however, Popol-Wuh describes itself as an archetypal il’bal saq or “instrument of vision” with which to see and participate in the “dawn of life, dawn of history.”


Meet the culture-bearing Heroes, Hunahpu and Ixbalanke, who serve as prime examples of the dual complexity of the archetype masked as a twinship of opposites. Master BlowgunHunter and Little Jaguar-Deer, Hunahpu and Ixbalanke, Sun and Moon respectively, embody the complementary qualities and perspectives of Solar and Lunar forms of consciousness.


As Solar and Lunar deities, Hunahpu and Ixbalanke not only express a certain dialectical synthesis of opposites, they give rise to a third luminary which is made manifest by the morning star of Venus. As the light of the Wisdom of the Peoples (Popol-Wuh), Ik’-Q’ij Moon-Sun illuminates the process of becoming human through the creation of a peaceful community living in harmony with Nature.


As the new form of mytho-historic consciousness, this vision of the Maya aurora consurgens or “rising dawn” appears on the textual horizon of the Popol-Wuh as the culminating event of the Fourth Creation: the birth of the People of the Corn. The face of Ik’-Q’ij Moon-Sun, Nima Ch'umil, Ik'oq'ij u b'i' “Great Star, Passing Before Sun its name” (Christenson Vol. 2 p. 206 lines 5958-5959) becomes the new source of illumination for the original mother-fathers of Maya civilization.


These four archetypal figures of original humanity, each name standing for a whole tribe, are called: “B'alam Quitze,Balam Acab, Mahucutah, Ik'i B'alam” (lines 5328-5331), names that may be roughly translated as “Jaguar-Shaman of the Bundle,” “Jaguar-Shaman of the Night,” “Keeper of the Spoils,” and “Jaguar-Shaman of the Moon.” Their “wives” are also introduced as Kajapalu Ha “Celebrated Seahouse,” Chomi Ha“Prawn House,” Tz'ununi Ha “ Hummingbird House” and Kaqixa Ha “Macaw House” (Tedlock 148-149).

Rather than a self-centered quest for a beautiful personality, the hero’s journey leads through a sense of sacrifice to the realmolding and shaping of the human community. Now bound to the material-symbolic order of the Law as the Root Ancient Word, the Maya emerge into the mytho-historic light of human civilization.


The Popol-Wuh text makes a point of underlining the peculiar nature of the First Four Mother-Fathers of the Maya people:

And these are the names of our first mother-fathers. They were simply made and modeled, it is said; they had no mother and no father. We have named the men by themselves. No woman gave birth to them, nor were they begotten by the builder, sculptor, Bearer, Begetter. By sacrifice alone, by genius alone they were made, they were modeled by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter, Sovereign Plumed Serpent. And when they came to fruition, they came out human:


They talked and they made words.

They looked and they listened.

They walked, they worked. (146-147)


The First Mother-Fathers were evidently not a product of nature or natural birth, not even out of the hands of the Creator Gods themselves. Rather than the result of a biological processof generation, the First Four Tribes are born as the result of a cultural process which turns around the institution of Sacrifice. This “miraculous power” or “spirit-essence” (Christenson, line 4959-60) of the sacrificial xa pus operates at a sacred level, that is to say, it unfolds in a “spiritual” or symbolic dimension which sets itself apart from the determinism of biology and natural history. Rather than literal persons, the First Four Couples are archetypal images of a human community oriented toward the Divine; They are the result of the sacrificial ordeals that the hero twins had to undergo in the depths of


The evolution of our species that is charted in the Popol-Wuhopens a peculiar mythic pre-history which contained the series of sacrificial processes culminating in the birth of the People of the Corn. The narration of the creation of the “human design” or “human work” opens an “in-between” space in which humanity is no longer nature but not yet culture.


As the Popol-Wuh tells, the Gods make several attempts at creating humanity, first out of mud and then wood, before discovering the “right stuff” from which to mold humanity. Always working in conjunction with the Gods, who represent the forces of Nature, the work of humanity depends on what we humans do with our historic freedom. The development that happens at the level of language and material culture, ritual and the rule of symbolic law, points to the transformations of consciousness on the horizon of mythic history. No longer determined by biology, the emergence of the symbolic order of language and human cognition marks an evolutionary leap in the history of homo.


On the basis of the archetypal patterns that “frame” newforms of humanity, the Hero myth in all probability belongs to the whole evolutionary history of our species.


The notion that the Hero as a singular titanic individual bent on furthering its own individualistic ends is a more recent innovation. Now driven by the hyper-individualism of capitalist culture, the narcissistic hero appears more like a symptom than a solution. Everywhere we look at the heroes of foundational myths like the Popol-Wuh, it is evident that a larger vision ofhumanity is at stake. The hero’s quest is not about themselves or their unique personalities or profiles. It takes on the responsibility for the destiny of humankind in the history on the planet.


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