Eagle and Condor

It is claimed that many indigenous people share a myth about the eagle and the condor. The story says that once all peoples were one, but split into two groups — the people of the eagle in the north, who are scientific, technological, intellectual, and innovative; and the people of the condor in the south, who are intuitive, spiritual, sensual, and deeply connected with the natural world. For the past 500 years, the myth reportedly says, the eagle, with its technological achievements, has dominated the condor.

But now there begins a new pachakuti, a new 500-year period, the fifth of the current cycle. The fourth pachakuti, which began in the 1490s, was a time of turmoil, struggle, and conflict; the fifth will be a time of harmony, coming together, and partnership, and will be the time when the condor will rise, and the eagle and the condor will fly together, wing to wing. Here is a statement of the myth:

Now, we've heard this before. The 1960s were supposed to bring the Age of Aquarius, and look what happened with that. And the trope about the wealthy but spiritually impoverished eagle, and the oppressed but spiritually rich condor, is not new either. Throughout the history of the European occupation of America, the Indian has served as the locus for constructions of otherness. Part of the process of appropriating indigenous culture has been to perceive natives as somehow more spiritual, more in tune with nature, closer to the earth, and therefore more childlike and in need of supervision.

Native Americans themselves have been profoundly ambivalent about this construction of their otherness. On the one hand, Native Americans are offended by their construction as spiritual ecological warriors, which, they say, alienates them from the reality of their everyday lives on the reservation, and presents a false picture of their complex cultures. And, as historian Hayden White points out, such characterizations have "no effect whatsoever on the treatment of the natives or on the way natives are viewed by their oppressors.”

Yet, on the other hand, indigenous people have been more than willing to contrast their own spirituality with what they in their turn construct as the deracinated spiritual poverty of the white man — what indigenous activist Vine Deloria calls “white folks crying for some kind of spiritual reality.” As Deloria expresses it, “White people in this country are so alienated from their own lives and so hungry for some sort of real life that they’ll grasp at any straw to save themselves ... It’s all very pathetic, really.” Wendy Rose, an indigenous writer and anthropologist, similarly sees white people as “crying out for help, for alternatives to the spiritual barrenness they experience, for a way out of the painful trap in which their own worldview and way of life have ensnared them.” Russell Means says that, “being spiritually bankrupt themselves, they want our spirituality as well.”

So, clearly, there is plenty of stereotyping going on, and in all directions.

But there is another way that the eagle and the condor appear to be beginning their flight together. An interesting and unforeseen consequence of globalization is that there has been a coming together of indigenous peoples of North and South America. In many ways, these contacts follow established pan-Indian routes. For example, the Sun Dance has become a ritual symbol of Indian unity for many North American Indians. Indeed, this symbolism goes back a long ways; in 1941, for example, Crow elders from Montana sought out Sun Dance leaders of the Wind River Shoshoni in Wyoming for help in reconstructing their own Sun Dance, which they had abandoned in 1875, under pressure from missionaries and the federal government.

Pete Catches at Spring Creek Sun Dance, South Dakota, 1969

Now indigenous people of South America are also seeking access to this powerful symbolism. As Sun Dancer Tomas Ramirez told me, "Nowadays it is great and a huge motivation to see Mapuche people from Chile, Nasa from Colombia and Mexicas dancing next to Lakota, Dine or Ojibwe warriors." Indigenous people in Colombia and Chile are seeking ways to bring Sun Dance traditions south to their own communities.

In addition, there have been a number of contact points between shamanism in the Upper Amazon and the Native American Church. There have been conferences of Native American Church elders and South American indigenous healers, focusing on shared peyote and ayahuasca ceremonies, under such rubrics as Encuentro de Naciones Condor-Aguila. The Iglesia Nativa in Ecuador has done combined sacred pipe and ayahuasca ceremonies with Shuar shamans under the auspices of the Associación Tsunki, an association within the Federación Shuar.

Not all such attempts at syncretism have gone well. Some problems have been cultural. Anthropologist Marie Perruchon, married to a Shuar and herself an initiated Shuar uwishín, shaman, reports that NAC teachers at one such ceremony attempted to force uncongenial practices on the Shuar — imposing lower status on the women participants, excluding menstruating women from touching the sacred pipe, interpreting the status of the condor in Shuar culture as like that of the eagle in indigenous North American cultures. A recent Condor-Eagle Gathering of Nations held near Popayán, Colombia, was intended to bring together respected taitas, shamans, and NAC elders; but it was so costly that indigenous Colombians could not attend, and was instead filled with wealthier European tourists who, as one NAC participant put it, “were there just for the medicine.”

Long journey. Small steps.


  1. Saying that Native American Church people attempted to "lower the status" of women by prohibiting them from touching the sacred pipe is very incorrect. Women who are in menstruation have special powers and energies and this "prohibition" is an act of respect which in now way diminishes the "status" of anyone. And shame on everyone involved for allowing such an interpretation to stand and find its way into print. In the first place. In the second place Sacred Pipe has no relationship in any way to shamanic practice. Whoever attempts to bring Sacred Pipe into a shamanic meeting is making a mistake. The two teachings have different origins, intents and results.It was a mistake for sacred Pipe to be involved in such meetings. As very interesting and hopeful as these meetings sound, it does point up problems, just as there are problems aplenty in the language you have used to describe these events. However, what an interesting idea and it is encouraging to know that meetings like this continue.

    Turtle heart
    Sacred Pipe

  2. Thank you for your very helpful comments. I used the term "lower the status" because that is how the situation was perceived by the participant. Perhaps a better explanation would have changed her view. Or perhaps not. As you know, there are serious debates on whether prohibitions on ritual participation by menstruating women lower their status or not.

    I am very sensitive to Native North American concerns about the use of the terms "shaman" or "shamanism" in relation to their spiritual traditions. For example, take a look at my December 10, 2007, post entitled "Who is a Shaman?" The Shuar apparently have no such issue with using the term "shaman" to translate their term uwishín, and I would really like to hear your thoughts on this.

    You say that "whoever attempts to bring Sacred Pipe into a shamanic meeting is making a mistake." In this your opinion differs from that of the Federación Shuar, as well as whatever Native North Americans brought the sacred pipe, and I would be very interested in hearing more of your thoughts on why this was a mistake.

    Again, thank you for your thoughts. You have raised a number of important points, and I would be eager to continue this discussion.

  3. I was taught that we (Mi'kmaq) don't have "shamans" - as far as I know we don't have such traditions either, and I haven't heard of any that I care to share about, as even talking about them I don't feel is right in this context.

    That said, that participant should have it explained to them that that diminishing of their person is totally wrong, and it should be explained to them.

    I'm not too sure about "mix and match", as many elders wouldn't want that, as they're aware that it can cause problems on many levels.... However, I think that the coming together of us northern and our southern cousins is great, and we (re-)learn from each other.

    Lowering their status? I don't see why. Women are strong, they have that creative force, and are even stronger when menstruating. Many cultures value this, and acknowledge this. Unfortunately some other cultures have taken to mean this is a bad thing, and therefore diminish women. This is a wrongness to me, and to me this is the patriarchal way.

    My two smokes....

  4. clever people rationalize what they want. It is a sickness which has affected every tradition. No, turtle island nations do not have shamanic traditions in any form. that seems evident. correction way is an elevation of person. corrections are an essential truth and sacred in themselves. making excuses is a function of the modern mind and like shamanism, does not exist in traditional context.