At the Omega Institute near Rhinebeck, New York, where I’m leading a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming this week, a striking assemblage of metal figures stands on the grass beside the library. You look through the hollow in each to the last, and smallest, figure, which contains an unborn child. This sculpture set was created by the artist Frederick Franck to honor the traditional teaching of the elders of the Six Nations of the Haudenosonee, or Iroquois, that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions, down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves.
One of my wishes is that, in any situation where we are called upon to choose a leader, from a President down to the coordinator of a community action group, we should pose the question: Will you be mindful of the consequences of every decision, down to the seventh generation beyond us. The traditional Iroquois call their chiefs rotiyaner, which means “men of good minds”. By tradition, they are chosen by the clan mothers. When a royaner is raised up to wear the deerhorn antlers of office, set in a feathered crown, the understanding is that he will live in connection with a deeper order of purpose and responsibility. The deer antlers, rising above the physical head, symbolize the connection with a higher world, the world of spirit where the origin and deeper logic of human events are to be found. By tradition, the “man of good mind” is accountable; if he fails to honor his trust, the women of power can and will de-horn him.
A lot of history has happened since the time of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker and the creation of the Confederacy of the Longhouse, and traditions may no longer be honored as they were meant to be served, in a world turned upside down for Native Americans and others. But the tradition speaks to all peoples, I believe, and offers us a path beyond our present confusion.
In my own life, I remember my obligations to a woman seven generations beyond my own, who has reached to me in visions and offered me glimpses of her world. It is a harsh world, in terms of the physical environment for human life. It is a world in which she is a member of an order of priestess-scientists who are trying to restore the Earth and the human spirit after a series of disasters brought about by men driven by greed and hateful ideas, men who acted with no thought for the long-term consequences of their actions. My priestess-scientist in the seventh generation beyond mine is a dreamer, in a Commonwealth of Dreamers for whom the true arts of dreaming are central to every aspect of everyday activity, in education and medicine, in seership to scout the best possible future for all. I am humbled by the thought that my work, in creating a new mode of Active Dreaming, may contribute to what she and her sisters are able to do. I am challenged and mobilized by the knowledge that I must give my best, in the time I have available, with the help of the community of active dreamers that is growing fast in my world, to help make her possible.
I came to study the ways of the Iroquois because an ancestor of the land where I now live – the Huron/Mohawk shaman I have called Island Woman in Dreamways of the Iroquois and in my historical novel The Firekeeper – reached into my mind, seven generations in front of her own time, when I moved to a farm on the edge of Mohawk country in the mid-1980s. I learned from her that the vital importance of dreaming is that it helps us to identify what the soul (as opposed to the ego) wishes in our lives, and that dreaming is for and about communities, not only individuals. In the Mohawk language, which my dreams of her required me to study, the phrase that means “Do not forget” is transcribed as tosa sasa nikon’hren, It literally means “Do not let you mind fall” – that is to say, do not let your mind fall from the knowledge of the first and essential things that were known to you in the Earth-in-the-Sky before you fell into this world.
I was reminded by Frederick Franck’s sculptures of one of the essential things we must remember to use as a gauge of action and a requirement for anyone who seeks leadership: to be mindful of the consequences of any decision, down to the seventh generation, in the precious and vulnerable ecosphere we share with so many forms of life that so often we fail to see or respect.