Just yesterday I ran across two websites that were warning folks to beware of fraudulent spiritual impostors and Native American wannabes bent only on making a profit from misunderstood and distorted teachings. They accused these people of stealing cultural property and even had several Native American tribes post responses and warnings. The sites listed links that denounced several practitioners and writers by name. This caught my attention immediately because I saw Jamie Sams listed as one of the names on the list. Let me state I do not personally know nor have I ever met Jamie Sams and therefore I am in no position to offer any opinion. I simply use her Sacred Path and Animal Medicine Cards on a daily basis to help folks find, that which is buried within them. The cards chose me to be the tool to use for folks that come to me for help and it has been my experience that people respond wonderfully to them regardless of their belief system. On a spiritual level, I loved the teachings in the two Jamie Sams books that I have read. These websites, however, were very adamant that she was not a Senecca member and that the teachings in her books were not true or authentic Native American teachings. While I seriously doubted the actual validity of these particular websites, it did prompt me to extend this sort of logic to the larger picture of all belief systems. How do any of us know if we are following an authentic spiritual path? For that matter, is it legitimate to follow something that we have created ourselves? Simply being a fellow traveler on this Earth Walk, it struck me that perhaps others have wondered the same thing.
My spiritual belief system has formed over 48 years of experiences. I was brought up in the local Methodist church until my teen years and then went to the Baptist church just down the road. While attending the Baptist church, I was fortunate to have known a most remarkable minister named Onden Pearly Stairs. He made an indelible mark on my life when I asked him a question that only a teenager would ask, “How do I know if this is the right way for me to believe?” His response was truly from a position of enlightenment. He told me that God had created an infinitely huge waiting room with an infinite number of doors. Behind each door was a different religion or system of belief. He went on to say that God intended for everyone to feel free to try as many doors as they wanted to but in the end, He stipulated that you would have to walk through one and close it behind you. It was the most perfect answer that one could have given a teenager seeking a spiritual path.
In the back of my mind, I had never totally felt that Christianity was my answer. The underlying tenets were solid but I never quite got over the feeling that there were lots of power and control issues created by small, select groups of people to contain larger groups of people. The multitude of rules and punishments and the entire concept of a place where our souls burn forever because we did not perform up to expectations just did not seem right. In some dogma, we could never perform as expected and were even born as sinners. Yikes. Not much hope there and forget that picture of a loving parent. So off I went way to college and became immersed in the multitude of different religions and faiths that were being practiced.
I explored everything I could look for the one system that fit all my still-evolving criteria. Each new experience pushed me further towards a place where I was seeing obvious deficits in all the dogmas. In all fairness, no conventional spiritual faith could have met my requirements. In hindsight, it is easy for me to look at those years as nothing more than a hiatus from actually having to step through and close a door. I did have incredible conversations and enlightening experiences but I was not ready to embrace one of these for life. I have always believed that if you profess that something was the One Truth, and then you had no other choice but to follow it. To do less was to demonstrate that you did not fully believe what you said you believed. I admit that was a bit extreme but it was based on my logic and as such was part of my spiritual test.
The so-called New Age movement was just getting into full swing as I began life outside of college. I read everything I could such as Godel, Escher, & Bach; The Golden Braid, The Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Tao Te Ching, Starship and the Canoe, the list goes on but I am sure you get the point. A huge turning point was when I discovered the writings of Joseph Campbell. I was forever changed when I read The Power of Myth. It was then that I knew that my time to close the door was getting closer. However, there was still nothing formal, no blueprint other than “find it yourself” for me to follow and I slowly let my bliss fade away. Evidently, I was not ready for that responsibility yet.
So life continued for 20 more years with some periodic seeking and wandering. In times of turmoil it was always easy to call for God’s help and promise that I would go back to church. Yet when the crisis had passed, I found I did not sustain that commitment. I knew I was missing something important in my life. All this time, I could never get rid of my feeling that faith should not have to be complicated or extremely difficult to embrace. The majority of all the world’s religions agree in a Higher Power, that we are part of it (or were at one time) and that Love is the one concept that transcends both the spiritual and physical planes. Finally, I got it; it was that simple.
I listened to the Voice inside of me that had been there all along telling me to trust and to rest assured that there was no single correct method. It was more important to put my stake in the ground and proclaim it to Great Mystery. My best friend had always counseled me that I should just Be, that I should connect to the Earth and listen to Her music. So I asked for guidance, listened carefully for the response I knew would arrive and found that I was pulled towards the teachings of the many Native American people. I have never felt that Jamie Sams was giving me a new religion. Instead, I found a system of teachings and lessons that transcend all the dogma of the systems I was looking at. After all, isn’t it more important that we find a connection, a structure, and an anchor with which to bind our life’s purpose to this present time than to wander around without a function? Even if we believe our function is to simply be in the present, not be concerned with the future, and to understand that everything we do or experience is part of a grand design.
As I conclude this writing, I would propose the following test. I find Sams' response to all those that criticize her work to be the most appropriate question to ask yourself if you are questioning what is the correct spiritual path;
“What are you doing to help the children of Earth
to better understand themselves and All Their Relations?”
It is so interesting to apply this question to your belief system. How does it stand up against this inquiry? And when she speaks of Relations (notice the capital letter) Sams means everything on the planet, not just the Two-Legged ones. It seems to me that if you can align your actions with what you believe and then objectively answer the question above with a response that affirms you are positively adding to the collective human experience, and then you are on a personally authentic spiritual path.
Finally, just as Change and Love are the only constants in this plane of existence,
one’s belief system should not be so rigid that new understandings and observations cannot be incorporated. Growing and evolving are both verbs and, therefore, any system that does not allow for these action words, does not serve its intended mission, to allow you to achieve your greatest potential and to become One once again with your higher Power.