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
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
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
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
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
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 Schiat@aol.com
or (206) 860-2843.