Issue # 14       Speaking with the Spirits:
Shamanic Divinatory Techniques         January/February  2009


What's New At CEH
Upcoming Issues
Workshop Reviews
Upcoming Workshops-Please Note!
 Shamanic Divination, an    
      Overview  Crow Swimsaway
Shamanic Divination: One Healer's
      Experience Jeffrey Rich
Ifa Divination  Papillon DeBoer
Do Trees Have Rights? Silver
      Donald Cameron
Your Feedback
Activists' Corner
Bekki's Art
Submission Guidelines
What's New At CEH


A long newsletter since there is so much to share with you all. We have had the first whisperings of Spring here, and Crow and I spent several hours yesterday and today in the garden, getting vegetable beds ready for planting. Only yesterday, it seems, we were beseiged by snow and ice that left us without power for 5 days. At times like these we are grateful for woodstoves and our creek!

One of the key elements of shamanic work in many (if not all) cultures is divination. Also in tribal cultures there are forms of divination that are practiced "without a shamanic license", ie by non-shamans. That is almost always true in European cultures, simply because we lost our active shamans years ago and are just now recovering neo-shamanic practice. While divination is not always tied to healing, it is a big part of discerning the way to re-balance the imbalances that shamanic peoples recognize as the cause of disease on all levels.

So we will run a series on Divination, alternating it with the Living Shamanically series-- just so you don't get bored! This first issue is appropriately enough about shamanic techniques of divination. We will follow with an issue on Tarot; and with other divinatory methods as they occur to us or you-- our Readers -- suggest.

Also I came across an interesting article by a Canadian writer about the legal rights of trees. It had been posted on a group forum I belong to at Care 2, A Green Sustainable Network. I recommend Care 2, the Networking group, the writer (Sliver Donald Cameron) who writes entertainingly and wisely on many topics.

One last note, lots of information on this year's workshops, we are well on our way to filling up the available weekends through June, with some sprinkled through the rest of the year, and we have one 2 Week Healing Intensive scheduled and tentative plans for another in the fall. Please see details this newsletter...

Bekki and Crow

Do you know someone who might be interested in Shamanism, healing or metaphysics in general, or our work in particular? Please do forward this Newsletter to friends that would be interested... You'll find the Church of Earth healing on line HERE.

Upcoming Issues of the Newsletter

We really need material for upcoming issues so PLEASE consider writing on one of these topics. You don't have to be an expert, you just have to have an interest. The more submissions we receive the more quickly our issues can be put together for publication. We prefer not to be the sole authors of the material, because we are interested in your ideas, thoughts and experience.

If you aren't finding anything here that you are interested in, suggest a topic. We are always looking for ideas. AND if you have read a good book you'd like to review, or have something else valuable to contribute, submit it anyway. We often publish off-topic material to round out an issue.

Issue 15: Living Shamanically: Intentional Communities
Tribal cultures are community-based. For hundreds of years, but particularly in the last 50 years,  Western culture  has seen the rise of interest in intentional communities, as indivuals have discovered the relevance of living in communities  with groups of people who share similar goals. What do people practicing shamanistic spiritual practices have to gain from living in this way? What have we to learn? and what can we share, for the greater good? What are the strenghts and the pitfalls?

Issue 16: Speaking with the Spirits: Divining through Tarot and other Card Oracles
More on Divination, this time specifically with cards. Review your favorite shamanically-based deck, share a reading technique you feel is grounded in shamanism, or review a book or article that has inspired you.

Issue 17: Living Shamanically: The Humor Issue
We know some of you work with Coyote...!!! Share your knowledge and experience...

If you have an idea for a theme for an upcoming newsletter we'd love to hear from you.

Upcoming Workshops and Trainings 2009

February 2009

19-22 ConVocation is a convention of the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions. Since 1995, this 4-day event has brought together over 100 classes and rituals presented by local instructors, internationally renowned guest speakers and authors. Along with workshops, ConVocation offers over 40 tables of merchandise in the Merchant Room, an Art Show and the largest indoor Drum Circle in the Midwest. Bekki and Crow are guest speakers at this event, and will be available for tattooing and healing work in addition to their classes and shamanic ritual.

March 2009

7-8 Fundamentals of Shamanism in Norfolk-Virginia Beach VA. For information, to register or to book a private session, contact Neal Scott at or (866)409-4805

14-15 Fundamentals of Shamanism at Niches Retreat Center for Conscious Living in MacArthur OH. For more information or to register contact Pat at (740)596-4288 or

Circle of the Ancestors in Huntsville AL, sponsored by Jeffrey Rich of Dragon Heart Healing.  For information about the workshop, to book private sessions or to register contact Jeffrey at or (256)337-1699.
Because of extraordinary interest in Huntsville, we will be teaching Fundamentals of Shamanism concurrently with Ancestors, with one of us teaching each workshop.

April Weekends are available for booking.
If you've been thinking about having us for a workshop please contact us, we are filling up the year rapidly!

April 2009
4-5 Get a Life: Past Life Shamanism at Niches Retreat Center in MacArthur OH. Our newest  workshop, details in this newsletter.

May 2009

2-3  Open Weekend

Circle of the Ancestors at the Mystical Attic in Norfolk-Virginia Beach VA.  For information, to register or to book a private session, contact Neal Scott at or (866)409-4805

Shamanism for the Creative Artist: A Weekend Retreat This special retreat version of the workshop includes Friday night, and is designed to give the attendees a relaxed retreat experience at Niches. In addition to shamanic work to enhance creativity, there will be time for meditation in Nature and creative time with the attendees' media of choice. Bring cameras, paints, beads, journals and other creative tools to work with. Not limited to visual artists. For beginners there will be skilled art instructors on hand to mentor and work with you during breaks. This workshop takes place
at Niches Retreat Center in MacArthur OH. For information or to register, contact Pat at (740)596-4288 or

June 2009
Opening the Shamanic Voice in Huntsville AL, sponsored by Jeffrey Rich of Dragon Heart Healing.  For information, to register or to book a private session, contact Jeffrey at or (256)337-1699.

Two-Week Advanced Shamanic Healing Intensive Residential Training at Dragon Waters. Bekki and Crow have been teaching this intensive since 1990. Limited to 4 participants, it is an apprenticeship-style training involving intense and continuous immersion in nature and in shamanic training. The second week of the training, each student does 4-5 supervised client sessions, doing shamanic work, in addition to their studies. Must have strong journeying skills. Circle of the Ancestors and Opening the Shamanic Voice are pre-requisites for this course.
For more information, see the link or contact us.

We are already booked for these workshops in Norfolk VA:
a July weekend
Rooted in the Heart, Seeded in the Soul: Plant Spirit work
an August weekend Fundamentals of Shamanism
a September weekend Trekking with the God of the Vine
an October weekend Circle of Ancestors
a November weekend Love Medicine
And a
special October event: Teach at the Beach, a retreat with us and Elspeth and Nybor of Haven (Sunday- Friday in coastal NC)
We will be teaching all-new material at this event.
For more info on these workshops see our schedule...
If you've been thinking about sponsoring us you may want to contact us soon.

And if you haven't looked at our Workshops page lately, you may be in for a surprise.
We have been adding to our workshop offerings steadily since we began teaching. As of 2009, we now offer:

Four 2-day shamanic workshops on Creativity or Craft themes
Three workshops on Divination
Three Energy Healing workshops, two at the beginning level and one requiring shamanic experience
Three introductory workshops that do not require shamanic experience (one is Fundamentals of Shamanism)
Ten intermediate shamanic courses on a variety of topics, plus the Elementals of Shamanism series (4 classes)
Advanced plant spirit work: Mugwort and Friends
Two Intensive Courses: Two-Week Advanced Shamanic Healing Training and the CEH Ministerial Training

Shamanic Divination

By Crow

“…the central personage [the shaman] is believed to have direct intercourse through the ecstatic state with the transcendent world that permits him to act as healer, diviner, and psychopomp…”
Dioszegi, 1974

There are many approaches to divination in shamanic cultures.  Some techniques are used by everyone in the community and some are exclusive to the shaman or some other spiritual leader.  People depend on everything from the random fall of small hand thrown objects (beans, bones, sticks, stones) to in-depth journeywork to help them deal with the unpredictability of life’s events.  Here I will briefly discuss those portions of several books that deal with various kinds of divination in a number of very different cultures; all shamanic, all known for their divinatory practices.  Most fascinating is the variety of ways human-kind chooses to randomize relationships with material events so they may help us approach the unknown and the uncertain.

Let’s start with Sarangerel, one of our favourite authors. Riding Windhorses has a chapter on Fortune-telling and Dreams; Chosen by the Spirits includes Using Divination for Shamanic Diagnosis and, separately, Divination. “Fortune telling” may strike one as a strange shamanic activity until one realizes that Sarangerel is making a careful distinction between diagnostic divination, done only by a shaman, and other kinds of divination a shaman or an ordinary person may do.  In diagnosis, “the spiritual and physical causes of disease and spiritual problems will be revealed, and may of these techniques will also include “prescriptions” for the patient’s condition.” (Spirits, 115)  She gives detailed directions for the reader to perform numerous divinatory techniques common in Mongolia, both diagnostic and fortune telling.  See Windhorses, pages 124 to 142 and Spirits, 116 to 131.  She also acknowledges the significance of dreaming in shamanic diagnostic work and points out that the shaman who uses this technique must have the talent for purposeful or lucid dreaming.

Vitebsky’s, The Shaman, an excellent introduction and reference book on shamanism which you should all have in your libraries by now, has a short section on Divining.  He discusses diagnostic divination and diagnostic dreaming then states, “Divination is not only used to address the future, but may also find out what is going on elsewhere in the present.”  (105) He illustrates this with an exciting story of the in-trance flight of an Eskimo shaman from Alaska to Siberia in a successful search for a missing person. 

The Healing Wisdom of Africa is primarily about Malidoma Some’s own tribe, the Dagara and it is, indeed, full of healing wisdom.  On page 90, he learns from a personal misfortune, which he should have avoided by using divination.  He is able to make a key connection between ancestors and our divinatory understanding of ourselves and our place in the world: “The indigenous method of bringing to light the roots of conflict and illness through communicating with the Spirit World created a coherent and effective circle of support for individuals.  Rights are safeguarded and conflicts were resolved with the help of the ancestor spirits.” On pages 106-9 he tells the delightful story of how he learned to do divination by (at first unwittingly) spending time with his uncle Guisso, a famous and very active diviner.  In that context he speaks of how traditional diviners are reluctant to work with literate persons: “Literacy represents a kind of clairvoyant knowledge that diviners think does not agree with magical knowledge.” And, “…indigenous diviners…conclude that literacy is a violent knowledge bent on attacking any nonliterate knowledge.”  If you are an “active diviner” you will recognize what Some is talking about.

Our images of Gypsy life often include the “Gypsy fortune teller”.  Imagine my surprise when We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture (Lee 2000) hardly mentions divination at all.  Lee focuses heavily on how the Gypsies, past and to a small degree present, work shamanically and this seems very similar to journeywork undertaken by other spirit-led peoples.  He states (202) that, “As a method of healing, the Romani journey is also instrumental in helping an individual answer questions, decipher riddles and solve mysteries relevant to his or her life…”  That is all he has to say on the subject.

Shamanic Worlds:  Rituals and Lore of Siberia and Central Asia (Balzer 1997) brings us a few more examples of shamanic divining techniques.  Anatoly Alekseev (p 153) quotes Basilov: “[The shaman] could learn from the spirits what would happen to a person in the future, and the location of lost people, animals, and things.” Matriona Ia. Bulatova (p 240) tells how the shaman Matriona Petrovna used needles to get a general reading of the state of everyone present (the needles also became charged with positive energy and were worn by the recipients). Next she told fortunes, including health, work and children, using a gekhik, a special shaman’s club or beater; the prognosis being determined by which side of the beater lands uppermost.

Two works by Professor Mihaly Hoppal were reviewed in an earlier Newsletter; both mention shamanic divination.  In Shamans and Traditions (p 15) Hoppal mentions – without details – dream divining by the Mansi of Siberia and the Guatamalan Maya. On page 108 he quotes Kenin-Lopsan that Tuvan shamans use the khuvaanak or 41 stone method of divination. (See Sarangerel for a similar technique used in Buryatia.)  One qualification for a Daur shaman was divination from a shoulder-blade bone. (p 121) In Shamanism, Hoppal included Dioszegi’s extraordinarily complete article about Shamanism from the 1974 Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edition). The opening quotation, above, is from that article.  Also of value are his descriptions of various techniques of bow divination among several Siberian peoples.  Descriptions and photos are included of Tuba (Tuva?) and Chelkan shamans doing the work. (p 278-81)

Two Examples of Bow Divination
(The illustration below is the Chelkan shaman)

Finally I would like to mention a Siberian technique which Bekki and I got to view numerous photos of at the 2007 ISSR conference in Hungary.  The photos were part of a paper by Agnes Kereszi; Shamans, Enchanters, Clairvoyants; People with Special Abilities of the Ob-Ugrians (of Siberia) which is published (p 49-57) in  Shamanhood Today: Abstracts and Selected Papers. The technique involves  asking a question then lifting a weight (in the photos, a plastic bucket filled with water).  It was predetermined whether “heavy” or “light” meant a positive or negative answer.  We watched the Ob-Ugrian shaman ask and lift the bucket himself; then have his clients, a young couple with family and career challenges, ask and lift themselves. The answers, with the full bucket sometimes flying into the air, sometimes acting glued to the floor, were well received as accurate by all concerned. Page 53 describes this event and other kinds of (more traditional) weights lifted.  Also mentioned are “dream seers”, those who find lost objects, clairvoyants who could see the future and those who divined by throwing small pebbles. (p 52-53)

Our examples here are weighted a little heavily toward Mongolia and Siberia but I believe they are ample enough to make the point that divination is human and that specialized forms of divination done by shamans are found in many – probably most – shamanic cultures.

“Afterwards, the Thriae showed Hermes how to fortell the future from the dance of pebbles in a basin of water; and he himself invented both the game of knuckle-bones and the art of divining by them. Hades also engaged him as his herald, to summon the dying gently and eloquently, by laying the golden staff upon their eyes.”

Graves, 1955

 Books Mentioned in this article:

Sarangerel,  Riding Windhorses: A Journey in to the Heart of Mongolian Shamaism, 2000, Destiny Books, Rochester, VT
                    Chosen by the Spirits: Following Your Shamanic Calling, 2001, Destiny Books

Malidoma Some, The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community, 1998,  Tarcher/Putnam, New York

Piers Vitebsky, The Shaman (or just Shaman):Voyages of the Soul; Trance, Ecstasy, and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon, 1995, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK

Patrick Jasper Lee, We Borrow the Earth: An Intimate Portrait of the Gypsy Shamanic Tradition and Culture, 2000, Thorsons, London

Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, Editor,  Shamanic Worlds: Rituals and Lore of Siberia and Central Asia, 1997 North Castle Books, London

Mihaly Hoppal, Shamans and Traditions, 2007, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest
                        (editor) Shamanism: Selected Writings of Vilmos Dioszegi, 1998, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest

Kornelia Buday, Mihaly Hoppal (editors), Shamanhood Today: Abstracts and Selected Papers, 2007, MTA Neprajzi Kutatointezet – Magyar Vallastoudomanyi Tarsasag, Budapest

Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955, Penguin  Books, London

Shamanic Divination: One Healer's Experience
Jeffrey Rich, LMT
CEH Certified Shamanic Healing Practitioner

As my shamanic experience and training have progressed, I've discovered that my allies have giften me with a strong gift for divination. Recently during the two week Shamanic Healing Intensive, some unusual divinatory experiences came my way, and with them came a deepening and enriching of my relationship to my healing allies. In the process, the allies and I learned to dance a better and more effective healing dance together when working with clients.

The first experience I will relate actually occurred during our final client session of the second week. I and the other student, Scott, decided to work together on this client since our other scheduled person had had an emergency and couldn't be there that day. After speaking with "M" and finding out his needs, we began our diagnostic journey to get information from our allies about what to do to help him with his request to make his own shamanic journeying easier and
more effective.

At first my allies didn't show me much or say anything. I kept repeating M's request for ways toward easier and more effective journeying, yet still receiving little information. As I was about to give up and finally admit defeat, I saw what appeared to be a dark brown steel egg surrounding him, locking him in. My hands which had become Badger's claws reached out to rip this thing apart when luckily I felt a tap on my shoulder and one of my allies looked at me and shook his head, "no". I drew back and asked the allies, "is this a protective device for M?" Yes. "Did he put it there?" No. "Is it keeping him from connecting and journeying?" Yes. "Is it working correctly? Can you give me specific information for my client so that he'll know what it is we're talking about?" The answer came in the form of a picture: overlaid on top of the egg was a set of elevator buttons which turned on from the bottom up, one by one, leaving the top two un-lit. When I asked again for more information or for how to activate this thing and even whether I should attempt this or not, they merely pointed to the picture of the lit and un-lit elevator buttons again and then pointed to the egg.

When I came out of the journey, I explained to M what it was that I had seen. "It looks like a strong shell of protection that was put there by someone else for your protection. The allies tell me that it is important and that it is strong, but not yet activated somehow. There seems to be one or two more steps necessary to make this thing fully operational." M's eyes widened a little with understanding. "I did ask my allies if I could or even should do anything to activate this thing, but they did not indicate that I was to do that." Scott had more succinct information from his allies: "They told me not to touch it. But if you want to try ..."

M did explain that he had recently been a part of an initiatory ceremony whose purpose was to install this protective shield. He also mentioned that to conclude the ritual he was to "share energy" with (I think) nine people, but that he'd run out of time while doing this and had to catch his plane home before all of the energy sharing had been completed. He then said he'd be sure to finish that part of the ritual as soon as he was able to do so.

The other experience I will relate involves the healing session I did with Crow, one of two such "final exams" to do healing work for the instructors for the Healing Intensive. Crow asked me to help with physical healing methods (only; this was part of my test) to help him with some pain and abnormal gait issues that had lingered after a recent surgery. During the diagnostic journey my allies suggested that I use bodywork and acupressure techniques with which I was already well-versed (I'm a licensed massage therapist in the state of Alabama with a private practice entering its tenth year). After the bodywork had been completed, during which I remained both in the shamanic state of consciousness and simultaneously in ordinary consciousness, I took one more "look" with the aid of my allies and saw that Crow's lower three chakras didn't connect strongly to the rest of his trunk chakras, and that the connections between the three lower ones looked a little like clogged plumbing. I then used my drum to sonically open these connections and try to dislodge some of the material that was clogging the energy pathways.

When I had finished and I was discussing what my allies had shown me, his eyes twinkled and he said that the information concerning his lower three chakras had also been related to him during a healing session by another practitioner at a previous time.

What was interesting about both of these events and about many of the other divinatory experiences I had during the Healing Intensive was that this particular type of information is given to me by my allies with a sort of "oh, by the way, while you're here" kind of air. By learning more about how I work with my healing allies, I found that for me it pays to be very, very attentive to even the smallest details presented to me in journey. Also, that the deeper I delve and the more questions I ask of my allies, the richer the picture I'm able to present to my client and the more I have to go on to ask the allies about how to approach the healing session.

Jeffrey Rich, LMT
CEH Certified Shamanic Healing Practitioner

Ifa Divination
by Papillon DeBoer

Divination is a simple way to develop a deeper understanding of the complexities inherent in living. If everything is composed of patterns, such as atoms, the digestive process, religious ritual, time, or mathematics, including patterns we can't yet or can barely apprehend, such as weather or roulette, then divination is a way of studying the pattern of one facet of reality in order to understand another. Modalities of divination vary in complexity, from the esoteric meanings and combinations of the 78 classic Tarot cards, to the hundreds of songs, stories and predictions for each of the 256 possible ideograms of Yoruban divination, of the religion Ifa. Some diviners engage in elaborate ritual and cultivate a relationship with a body of spirits, and others attribute it to the mysteries of mathematical chance or accessing the realms of the subconscious mind, doing readings in any kind of social occasion. There are many answers to how divination works, none definitive. Some diviners are highly and demonstrably accurate, others endearing and superficial.

The simplest form of divination is, of course, the coin toss. Flipping a quarter for heads or tails can be an illuminating or ridiculous way to make a decision where one is ambivalent.

As the complexity of divinatory method increases, so do the shades of nuance, the importance of phrasing the question particularly, and the expanse of the question.

A basic divination which allows for shades of yes and no is obi divination, originally from the African religion of Ifa, which has also become Cuban Santeria, among others. Most commonly four pieces of fresh coconut are tossed to the ground and read as one of five possible combinations. The coconut pieces are called "obi" and are carved roughly 2 inches in diameter and squarish. One side is the pure white of coconut flesh, the other is brown inner husk. The coconut can be considered part of an offering to the spirits of the ancestors, to the spirit of divination Orunmila (also Orunla), or at times to other spirits of the tradition. Also typically offered, at minimum, is a cup of fresh water, used to anoint the obi while praying and occasionally during the divination. Prayers are said to the names of God, our ancestors, teachers, spirits of the religion, and then for protection and blessings. The four pieces of coconut are held clasped loosely in both hands, while kneeling on the floor. A question is asked, the obi shaken downward twice and then on a third time released to fall on the floor, clapping hands as the obi hit and scatter.

There are five possible combinations, each a basic yes or no.
Four white sides up is Alafia. This is a definite yes, with other blessings.
Three white sides up, one brown up is Etawa (and variations like Etana) and is a yes, but indefinite.
Two white sides up, two brown is Ejife or Ire. Another definite yes, which also indicates balance. Said by some to be the most desirable yes, the most tangible.
Three brown sides up, one white is Okana. No. If this answer keeps coming, the ancestors may be trying to speak and should be questioned rather than Orunmila or others.
Four brown sides up is a definite no. If this answer keeps appearing it is said to mean that darker larger forces are at work and a more complex form of divination is necessary, performed by a priest.

Though simple, obi divination can be highly accurate and effective, and it is recommended that one receive training before performing it for the most harmonious results. A number of short books have been written on the subject of obi divination, and should be readily available online.

Activist's Corner
ALERT!!! New Study Re: High Fructose Corn Syrup

In a new study published February 2009 in the scientific journal Environmental Health, mercury was found in nearly 50 percent of tested samples of commercial high fructose corn syrup. The news is disturbing given that this ingredient is present in a large portion of processed American foods. According to David Wallinga, M.D., co-author of the study, "Given how much high fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the FDA to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply." A separate study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy detected mercury in nearly one-third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where high fructose corn syrup is the first or second highest labeled ingredient-including products by Quaker, Hershey's, Kraft and Smucker's.

Reprinted from Organic Bytes, online newsletter from Organic Consumers Association To get the Organic Bytes newsletter:
Subscribe , we do!

Other news from Organic Bytes:
Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference   Washington, DC   February 4-6, 2009 Please join OCA at this national conference, sponsored by the Teamsters Union, on "Making a Down Payment on the Green Economy." OCA Political Director Alexis Baden-Mayer will be speaking in a workshop called, "Building Quality Employment Opportunities in a Greening Supply Chain." The focus of this workshop will be on efforts that link workers rights and Fair Trade with energy and environmental sustainability and the public good. The green economy, including a new system of energy-efficient and carbon-sequestering organic food and farming will undoubtedly require new types of transportation and logistics jobs. The question remains: how we can ensure that these will be good, quality, socially beneficial and responsible jobs?

Congratulations to Rev. Patrick Price (Graduate of our Two-Week Intensive and long-time friend) and his  wife Jennifer, on the birth of their son last year. He sent us this photo recently. Both Patrick and Jennifer are Unitarian Universalist ministers currently residing in Texas. Needless to say, they have both been VERY busy being parents this year.

Bekki's Art
"Earth Tree Spirit " Pendant worked in 2 drop brick stitch. 
When I found this picture jasper cabochon, looking so much like a forest edging a field, I couldn't resist beading it...


Do Trees Have Rights?

by Silver Donald Cameron

Published: 01.07.2007
Source: Chronicle Harold, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Reprinted by permission of the Author

HARDLY ANYONE noticed it, but one of the most important events of 2006 may prove to have been the passage of the Tamaqua Borough Sewage Sludge Ordinance, a law enacted by the 7,000 brave souls who inhabit the community of Tamaqua, Penn.

Tamaqua’s revolutionary ordinance does two things. It denies the right of corporations to spread sewage sludge as fertilizer on farmland, even when the farmer is willing, and it recognizes natural communities and ecosystems as legal persons with legal rights. It is among the first “wild laws” to be passed anywhere in the world.

To understand the importance of wild law, consider this. The law recognizes as “jural persons” various bodies that are abstractions — corporations particularly, but also governments, foundations, universities, churches and other groups. These entities exist in our collective minds — you can’t touch them, smell them or see them — but they all have legal rights, particularly property rights.

Yet other entities that are absolutely real in every sense rivers and trees and animals have no legal rights at all. If Foulwater Mining Corp. dumps tailings in the river, the downstream town of Feckless Flats can sue for damage to its water supply. Both the corporation and the town are fictions, but they have standing in the courts. The river does not and neither do the plants, fish and animals in the stream.

What if they did? A decade ago, researching The Living Beach, I ran across a brilliant 1971 essay by Christopher Stone, a law professor at the University of Southern California, called Should Trees Have Standing? Towards Legal Rights for Natural Objects.

Stone’s essay began at the dividing line between property, with which we have no ethical relationship, and things-with-rights, with which we do. There is no “natural” boundary between the two, though we usually think there is. But, wrote Stone, the history of Western law shows a steady migration of items of property into the category of things-with-rights.

In Roman law, a man had absolute power over his children. He could even put them to death. In 1858, a U.S. court could say explicitly that “a slave is not a person, but a thing.” Natives, Jews, Chinese, women (especially married women), animals all of these have at various times been considered property, and have been denied the most basic of rights. But today, all of them have a substantial basket of rights.

Stone argued that natural objects should have at least three basic rights: the right to institute legal action at their own behest; the right to have injuries to them taken into account in determining legal relief; and the right to benefit from that relief. Since trees and birds and beaches cannot exercise those rights themselves, individuals or groups should be able to apply to the court for legal guardianship, and for the right to litigate on behalf of the natural object.

Stone was arguing for an ethical relationship with nature, and pleading that we start to think in less “homocentric” terms. We are not protecting natural objects for future human generations; we are protecting them for themselves. The environment does not exist for man; it may be that man exists for the environment.

In 2003, a South African lawyer named Cormac Cullinan expanded these ideas in a book entitled Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice. Humans are members of an earth community, Cullinan noted, and we cannot ignore the rights of that community, which makes our own existence possible. We need a new body of law whose first priority is to protect the ecological community in which we live.

This is not a cozy idea. Under such a regime, Nova Scotia Power could be sued on behalf of polar bears, whose habitat is being destroyed by the degradation of the air. Since NSP’s coal-burning plants are among Canada’s worst polluters, the bears might win the case and you and I would have to find other ways to generate electricity. That would be “wild law” with a vengeance.

Wild law could give ocean-bottom plants the right to challenge Clearwater’s bottom-trawling, or a bog the right to an injunction to block a drainage project. It might allow trees to demand that this newspaper be published only electronically.

Wild law will not soon gain that kind of traction or will it? Without rapid and radical change, the days of our own species may be numbered, and the fundamental justice and sanity of wild law is indisputable. Once begun, the process of legal change can move surprisingly quickly. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that an almost universal ban on smoking in public lay within the realm of possibility?

Peer deeply into the sewage sludge of Tamaqua. It may contain the future of the law.

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Our newsletter is a monthly publication which  includes articles, book reviews, workshop profiles and reviews, news of current and upcoming events and stuff that is really hot that we feel you need to know about. We focus on alternative healing and other work of the church and ourselves, though we cast our net widely.

We love to write and have lots of good material to share.  We also value your outlook, talents, and opinions so we welcome contributions.  These may include specific material we request from you, our readers. We welcome all kinds of material, preferably on our monthly topic. If you are submitting something on the topic, we must receive it before the deadline. If it is of general interest we will fit it in as soon as we can. Articles on topic receive first priority.

We work in Microsoft Word; that is the most convenient electronic form to receive material in.  If you need to use another form please ask first. Format is quite open.  Please place the title, author (in exactly the form you want your name to appear - including degrees, professional designations, etc.) and a very brief bio at the beginning of your offering. Please keep it fairly short and snappy, since we have limited space. We will read everything we receive before publishing it.  We would prefer not to have to edit for intelligibility or length.

                      All Contents Copyright Church of Earth Healing 2009