The most important rite of passage in tribal culture and spirituality has always been the quest for identity. A person’s identity is their gateway into reality. A person’s identity is also a gateway into their spirit, so it is equally important to know who “I Am” while at the same time protecting that identity from others that would seek to do harm or take advantage of the person. There are many ways and methods for becoming aware of one’s identity but the most common method for males has always been solitude in nature. Buddhism was born after an individual in
India spent time meditating while
sitting alone at the base of a tree. Jesus of Nazareth spent forty days and
nights in the wilderness, fasting and praying alone. The vision that resulted
in Protestant Christianity came to Martin Luther while he was meditating in
personal chambers. (Okay, I always love to mix it up a little with that pivotal
point in Western Culture, which is historically accurate and a prime example of
the spiritual importance of scatology.) While there are similarities between
men and women in the experience of becoming aware of one’s identity, there are
some gendered-based differences, the primary one being that a woman doesn’t
appear to have to isolate the same way a man will because of the difference in
gender-based ego function. A woman’s sense of self is stronger and thus able to
integrate social stimuli during the formation of identity. Should this not
occur then the same methods are available to a woman that are utilized by a
In breaking down tribal culture and identity functions over recent human history (say, the past 2000 years) there has been a lot of attention given to discontinuing any tribal ritual that would help establish and utilize a spiritual identity. A soldier vows to protect his country and its citizens but not his sense of self. He becomes a nameless and faceless warrior in the battle to protect, defend, and further the advancement of the rulers and powers that be. Military training is designed to reduce him down to a primal killing machine. Any sense of spiritual identity or integrity would incorporate a basic respect for all life and this impairs his ability to respond to commands that are in conflict with his sense of identity. The rites of passage that encourage the awareness of identity are also designed to be ego-deflating, but in the opposite direction. While ego-deflation is designed to create a sense of helpless servitude to the powers-that-be for a soldier, the tribal warrior goes through ego-deflation at a social level whereby his awareness beyond other people is of equal importance to his identity. A spiritual warrior is subjected to challenges that generate a sense of inter-connectedness with all his relations. “All My Relations” includes any function of awareness. The stars become relations. The grass, insects, rain, wind, and beyond are all integrated into an interpersonal and transpersonal relationship. All of life is sacred. To break a People’s will to maintain personal identity the opposing force must discontinue the rituals.
The first course of action in doing this is to “convert” the spiritual leaders to whatever spiritual or religious practices the invading forces follow, which is generally a dehumanizing religion that has very little regard for life. When the goal in following a religion is to have a better life in the “here after” then there is little attention given to the quality of life in the “here now”. That has serious consequences on the moral judgments a person will make. A fear-based reality is easier to control than one based upon awareness of self and the infinite possibilities of the Universe. The need for control of the masses and thus the warriors of a People is paramount for a conquering hero. So converting the spiritual leaders to the invader’s religion is the first stage of controlling the people beyond military force. Should the spiritual leaders refuse to convert, they are executed in full view of the public. Eventually the survivors succumb. The longer range procedure is to take over the education of the youth. As generation after generation loses touch with their indigenous spirituality they lose all sense of self as individuals and as a culture and become servants to the political, religious, and economic forces that control them.
One’s identity is established in the caste system of the invading culture. The indigenous people are always at the bottom of the totem pole. Their identity is now based on their station in life with respect to their relations with the conquerors. The better they are at serving those in power the better they will be rewarded. They will never be as good as but they might appear to be almost as good as their conquerors. Identity is based upon securing approval and an overwhelming fear of disapproval. Each generation is subjected to the process of destroying one’s sense of self in favor of servitude to a social and religious ideal of imperfection and unachievable perfection. “To Thine Own Self Be True” means to be greedy and self-centered to a person has been disenfranchised from their indigenous spirituality. Their social interaction is reduced to that of keeping up with the Joneses and comparative assessments of success based upon material acquisitions.
When an individual steps out of the social norm and seeks to establish a spiritual identity that person will encounter rejection and social ridicule. Every effort will be made to break the person’s will. It takes a great resolve to remain steady on the course during this process. As difficult as it is for a person to engage in a vision quest or walk-about while a member of a supportive tribal community, that effort is far more difficult while the person is attempting to function in an acculturated society that has given in to the fear-based reality of a conquered people who have functioned on the premise that success is dependant upon imitating the conqueror. One distinguish that is important to make between those who follow the course of an acculturated society and an individual who has made the commitment to seek and arrive at a spiritual awareness of self and identity is that the person who is subservient to society will view reality through his/her ego and assume that everyone else sees and understands the world the way they do while the spiritual warrior does not impose personal perception upon others. That means that while the person embarks upon a spiritual journey outside the acculturated society he/she grew up in, everyone in that society will assume that after some effort that person will give up and succumb to societal pressure just like they did.
And then we all die and go to heaven. Your mileage may vary.