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Angeles Arrien:
Warrior, Visionary, Healer and Teacher

Interview by Susan Chiat

Angeles Arrien is a cultural anthropologist, educator, and consultant who lectures and conducts workshops internationally. She is the author of The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols, The Four-Fold Way: The Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary and Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them. Her work honors the diverse indigenous spiritual practices of the world by offering us a thoughtful synthesis and practical ideas that we can use in our daily lives.

Susan Chiat (SC): Please explain the essence of your work as a cultural anthropologist?

Angeles Arrien (AA): Cultural anthropology takes a look at what is common among all of the cultures and what is distinctly different in art, music, religion, philosophy, government, education, health care and creativity. It basically looks at the points of unity and diversity, where we are unified or have similar patterns working as a human species and where we are distinct and how to honor those cultural differences. My focus is taking a look at the mythology and folklore of different cultures and how they appear with different garments with same themes as ways we can connect to resolve conflict. Cultural anthropology is used in modern times to prepare people to enter into other cultures honorably and respectfully.

SC: How did you become interested in studying myths and symbols from a cross-cultural perspective?

AA: I was raised biculturally. My parents are Basque. The largest Basque community outside of Spain is in Idaho, and I have family in both areas so I got interested in different cultures as a result.

SC: What motivates you to do this type of work?

AA: My motivation is to foster understanding and hold diverse points of view through mediation work, creative problem solving and conflict solving and to honor the indigenous wisdom of world. Just as we have endangered species, we have endangered cultures. I have explored over 127 different cultures and see that on every continent we are moving into a both/and world rather than an either/or world. I hold an image of a braided way. We canít sacrifice old for new or new for old. We need to honor both. Out of that will come something synergetic that is important. Many indigenous people hold a vision that is based in the heart. This is the bridge between spirit and the world. We need to honor the wisdom of the sky in equal proportions to the earth. Computers and technology are the sky. Ecology and preserving nature are the earth. It is important to begin to stretch our capacity and make room for diversity that is beyond racism or affirmative action but is based on respecting what each point of view has to offer and how they make a contribution to the greater whole. This helps people remember who they are and to become more tolerant, creative and open hearted to each other. Human beings need to learn about love and to express it and to create.

SC: Do you see a shift happening in human consciousness at this time?

AA: I am a practical idealist. I really trust the good, true and beautiful in the human spirit and think we can course correct. We have the opportunity to dream together a bigger dream that would foster the good. I am excited about the possibility of shifting into a wisdom society out of a power ambition society. I want to assist the shift of where we can begin to do this. I think the call of the 21st century is about snapping out of weakheartedness and the shrouds of insecurities, apathy and cynicism. It is important to foster our own and each otherís gifts and talents. This way the earth can get better. We need to empower rather than compare and compete. I am hopeful. There is a wonderful groundswell of people wanting to come into understanding the difference between knowledge and wisdom. It is interesting to explore ideas but unless they are grounded and applied in a wise way, I think it is a futile exercise in informational greed. It becomes another way of using information as power rather than in wise, creative ways.


SC: One of your workshops at the upcoming Body & Soul conference in Seattle is about rekindling the Soulís fire. What do you mean by this?

AA: The four fires found among indigenous cultures are wisdom, vision, heart, and creativity. In taking a look at what has heart and meaning for us, we also discover what gets in the way of doing so. The supporting archetypes Ė warrior, healer, visionary and teacher Ė are the four themes that cultures around the world have in common. We need to explore our creative expression and give voice to what we see and to grounding our life's vision. We need to ask ourselves, what are our sources of inspiration? How do we align with what has heart and meaning for us? What is the vision that we see? Take a look at what inspires longing for sources of inspiration, keys which lead us to our life dream and creativity. We often get a sneak preview as we are being prepared to step into it. Many of us have multiple dreams and multiple fires. I feel as a human species that we are being initiatied into a journey of partnership or a tribe rather than the hero and heroine. It is essential to do both inner work and to make external contribution.

SC: There is currently a resurgence of people wanting to follow their hearts and find their life purpose.This is a wonderful thing and also somewhat of a luxury for those of us that are not living in a war-torn country or dealing with extreme poverty. Is this work for everyone?

AA: Thereís a responsibility at different developmental stages. I think that there are more issues surrounding mental, emotional or spiritual survival rather than physical or circumstantial survival. In third world countries the hearts and spirits are well developed but they are coping with physical and environmental issues. For the wealthy, there is often isolation and loneliness, soul loss and lack of meaning. They have depended too much on outer rather than emotional and spiritual elements. I think there is a responsibility when we have our physical needs met to serve and help others that are less advantaged rather than to move into hoarding and greed. We need to get back into rhythm of nature. Nature is medium to slow and nothing in nature survives in the fast land. In the fast land there are two things you canít do. One is to deepen and the other is to integrate your experience. I think there is a responsibility for those who are out of physical survival to foster interdependent stewardship.

SC: I loved the stories in your book, Signs of Life by Lynne Whitley Novy, which speak about our addiction to negativity which is indoctrinated in us since childhood and steers people away from their real feelings and passions. Do you see this primarily as a western phenomenon or is it more universal?

AA: I think that we are highly conditioned in the American culture to the four addictions: intensity, perfection, the need to know, and to being fixated on what is not working rather than what is working. Intensity is the passion in the heart which has not been claimed. It goes into creating dramas rather than staying with the emotional nature. Rather than dramatize things, feel them. Perfection doesn't tolerate mistakes but excellence incorporates them and goes to another level of excellence. The need to know is based in control rather than trusting in wisdom. Instead of fixating on what is not working we need to be stratigizing how to trust wisdom. The mark of a visionary is being able to see both what is working and what is not working. This is the gift of vision: seeing the whole, all of the details and seeking creative solutions.

SC: Your book The Fourfold Way has struck a chord in many people who are not "indigenous" but resonate to the native indigenous styles of thinking and living. What is behind this reemerging interest in ancient wisdom?

AA: Basically, that it is a land-based wisdom. It is so interesting that ecology comes from the Greek word oikos which means home. The work of the future is to take a look at our own internal homes and outer homes as nature, stewarding and taking care of nature like we would take care of our own internal nature. The interest in shamanic wisdom or individual wisdom is the remembrance of how we have been connected to nature and learning to honor nature in reverential and humble rather than arrogant ways. Nature is constantly creating and diversifying. If we want to align with natureís laws, we must stand behind our own nature, purpose and life dream or calling and make sure that our gifts and talents foster interdependence. We have to make sure we are constantly creating and diversifying. This is the natural wisdom coming from the land.

Angeles Arrien will be presenting her work on Rekindling the Soul and the soulís fire at the Body and Soul conference in Seattle on September 17-20. For a brochure or more information, please call toll free 1-877-944-3003.

The interviewer, Susan Chiat, is a writer, counselor and event planning/marketing consultant who lives in Seattle, WA. She is the president of the board for the Women of Wisdom Foundation and leads monthly womenís spirit circles. She can be reached at or (206) 860-2843.