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Ritual: Reach Back and Get It

I came upon an American Indian story as I was researching into historical , and the impact of collective trauma, in preparation for a .

This is the story of The Three Sisters:

Three Indian sisters were walking down a path talking among themselves and they came to a river. As they were talking they heard a noise. They looked in the water and they saw babies coming down the river in the water. Some were struggling and some had already passed away.

The first woman said O Great Spirit! and ran into the river clothes and all. She started grabbing the babies and passed them up on shore to the other sisters. Her thoughts were, “I’ve got to rescue them.” There were so many coming down the river that she turned to her sister and said, “Come in here and help.” So the next sister ran in with her clothes on. As the sister came into the water she thought, “I could save more if I could train them.” So she picked a baby up and gently placed the baby back into the water while she moved the baby’s arms back and forth. Then she put that baby on the shore and she picked up another one and repeated the process. She was teaching them how to swim.

So the first sister was rescuing the babies and the second sister was training them. But they still couldn’t keep up. They both asked the third sister to come into the water and help. But the third sister stood there for a long time and her thoughts were running to, “How come these babies are coming into the river in the first place?” When she had that thought she took off running upriver to see what was going on there. Her thoughts were different. She went upriver to see if she could prevent the babies from entering the river and then washing down.

I share this story because the idea of going “upriver”, to fix the source of a problem, reminds me of the Sankofa principle. Sankofa is expressed in the Akan language as “se wo were fi na wosan kofa a yenki.” Literally translated, this means “it is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot”.

How different would the human psyche be if we focused not only on politics and rallies, but also on going deep into the bone?

What goes wrong in the visible world is only the tip of the iceberg. So to correct a dysfunctional state of affairs effectively, one must first locate its hidden area, its symbolic dimension, work with it first, and then assist in the restoration of the physical (visible) extension of it. Visible wounds have their roots in the world of spirit. To deal only with their visibility is like trimming the leaves of a weed when you mean to uproot it. Ritual is the mechanism that uproots these dysfunctions. It offers a realm in which the unseen part of the dysfunction is worked on in ways that affect the unseen. [ Somé, Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community. pg 25]

Perhaps it’s time we go running upriver and fetch what we forgot.

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