Harvesting Liminal Songlines – Honoring the Aboriginal Tradition of Australia
This past fall I went live with my new website giselawendling.com and blog Liminal Pathways. Liminal Pathways is also the title of a framework I have developed based on my evolving understanding of rites of passages as an archetypal framework for understanding human systems change. The word liminal comes from the Latin and means threshold or margin. It alludes to the in-between period in a change process where we are no longer the old and not yet the new, when the transformative process is the most active. The Liminal Pathways blog features essays on this topic.
In this post I introduce 13 essays that are very special to me and which I originally wrote for my Liminal Songlines blog. I these essays I reflect on my experiences exploring the spiritual healing tradition of the Aboriginal people of Australia while I was living there from 2009 to 2012. I write about the timeless wisdom of the Aboriginal people, their ceremonial practices and art, what they can teach us about relating to the land, and how to care for ourselves and each other during a time of change and challenge. You can find links to these essays at the bottom of this post.
Learning About Ceremonies: The Peruvian Andes and The Kalahari
My prior immersion into the shamanic/mystical tradition of the indigenous people of the Peruvian Andes, specifically the Q’eros, together with my participation in the healing dances of Kalahari Bushman in Africa, had instilled in me a deep desire to go deeper.
My field trips to these remote places helped me understand how traditional people live their lives in a world in which spirit is present all around and how this direct connection with spirit is especially alive in their ritual and ceremonies. I also learned that these kinds of ritual activities not only support healing and well-being, but also help communities and individuals move through significant times of change and uncertainty. Traditional initiations, for example, not only support the individual to step into the next phase of their lives, but also invite the community to participate in meaningfully in empowering the newly initiated to be ready to take up their new social role and on responsibilities.
Liminal Songlines Blog
Prepared with these insights, my dear friend Amy Lenzo offered to create the blog Liminal Songlines so that I could be in exchange with others about what I was in the process of learning: The Welcome to the blog stated:
This is a space to creatively explore the traditional culture and spirituality of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and to create pathways of understanding to support culturally sensitive action. This creative exploration not only brings us closer to Aboriginal culture but also to ourselves as we discover who we are as the explorers. It is within the spirit of this discovery of self and other that I also share with you some of the art that I am creating…
Aboriginal Art Making
As part of exploring the culture of the Aboriginal people, I began learning about Aboriginal art making, the deep spiritual and placed-based symbolism embedded in the art, and how this art making is one of the few ways for the Aboriginal people to participate in the western economic process with all the challenges this entails. See the book Dollar Dreaming by Benjamin Genocchio.
It was very clear to me, as I was learning how to use their pointillism techniques and symbolism, the art I created was not Aboriginal art, but merely my own attempts to uncover deeper layers of their culture and more about who I am as an explorer. The paintings I made opened my heart and mind to the great mystery of their traditional knowledge and an appreciation for how challenging it is to navigate cultural appropriation for them, and for me as a white person of privilege. I am glad to say I was able to have several conversations about this with Aboriginal painters and I hope that my approach has been respectful.
My Liminal Songline Blog has featured several pieces of Aboriginal art that were either given to me or that I purchased, and some of my own work to help reveal what I was learning. This blog also featured about twenty essays about my reflections and discoveries. Now the blog’s backend is outdated, and I need to permanently take if off-line. I am a bit sad about this, as I still get a couple of inquiries a year from Aboriginal and non-aboriginal women who want to learn more about the ceremonies I was able to participate in. I hope they will still find their way to me so that I can respond to their queries.
Participating in Women’s Business (Women’s Ceremonies)
In several of these essays, I reflect on my experience of participating in these women’s ceremonies, which took place near Uluru in the Central Desert. In Australia, these ceremonies are referred to as Women’s Business, while the men’s ceremonies are referred to as Men’s Business. There, the men and women do not share about their ceremonies with each other. These ceremonies are sacred, and the knowledge is secret. One of my big takeaways from these ceremonies is that a great deal of women’s wisdom is better held amongst women only rather than shared across gender. This has been very affirming of the personal growth I have experienced in participating in women’s circles here in the US over the past twenty years.
In these essays I share about Women’s Business, and I am careful not to reveal the knowledge which is not to be shared with anyone who has not participated in these ceremonies. Sitting on the hot red desert floor, Anti Nelly, the Aboriginal elder who had lead the ceremony the night before, shared with the non-aboriginal women who were allowed to participate, that it is really not so important to understand and share the particulars associated with these ceremonies but what is important is to be in touch with the feelings they create inside and that is it this feeling that we can take anywhere in the world. When Anti Nelly expressed this to me, I felt the deep generosity that is alive in her, in spite of the cultural genocide we, the white people, have perpetrated against them. I still feel her blessing.
I want to close with this excerpt from one of my blog pieces that captures some of my deepest learning from these women’s ceremonies and that continues to inspire my current work with communities and organizations when facing deeply destabilizing change.
Ceremonies are a collective healing response to the elemental and existential experiences of being human. As we dance, pray, chant, make offerings, surrender, and feel heard and witnessed by each other and the great mystery… our shared humanity becomes visible, and our place within this great weave of life is affirmed. Ceremony is healing and an enactment of wholeness.