Malidoma Patrice Somé is a master teacher for our times. For the past two decades he has been opening a trove of indigenous knowledge from the Dagara tribe as he offers unifying wisdom to Western people looking to reconnect with the richness of life when it is imbued with spirit and community.
Malidoma has faced many daunting challenges since he was born into the Dano village of Dagara peoples living in Bur-kina Faso, West Africa more than fifty years ago. He was only four when a French Jesuit priest abducted him from his village.
Like countless other children from indigenous cultures around the globe, he was sent off against his will to a school run by foreigners and forced to adopt other worldviews in order to survive. Malidoma grew up with the confusion and conflict of living in a stranger’s world.
While his life has been quite complex, Malidoma has realized considerable life achievement in finding mastery in two very disparate worlds — as both an initiated elder Dagara medicine man, and a Western trained scholar with two doctorates, one from the Sorbonne and the other from Brandeis.
The author of three books, his autobiography, Of Water and the Spirit, is an award-winning account of how he was able to unify his own divergent cultural experience. By his own account, it is “the story of his initiation into two different and highly contradictory cultures.”
Having found his own purpose as a teacher who knows how to bridge from the subtle to the material realms, he is an effective diviner able to guide others to greater meaning and fulfillment. His intensives and workshops offer people the opportunity to experience a deep healing of the psyche, through connecting and communicating with the physical world of nature and the unseen world of spirit allies and ancestors.
Donna Strong: So I wanted to begin with a question about the work you do, bringing forth indigenous technology and spirituality through the intensives you are offering in Ojai.
Malidoma: Oh. It’s very intensive. (Laughter.) It’s one of the most concentrated ways for me to try and cover as much as possible in the African indigenous medicine, which I refer to as indigenous technology.
The intensive is actually a course that goes on chapter by chapter. The first one, called “Elemental,” is basically an opportunity to understand the relationship between cosmology and ritual. We end up doing the ritual as a better way of understanding this relationship.
I just present it as is; that is to say, the five-fold way of the Dagara incorporating five elements — fire, water, earth, nature, and mineral. And although in the course of four days, we can’t do all these rituals — they’re very time-consuming — at least we get to do the most important ones: the fire, the water, and the earth.
The second meeting is basically on ancestors. This is a therapeutic subject matter in the West, reconnecting with ancestors. We spend four days dealing with the dead, the lost one, the forbearers, and find a way to engage and interact with them in a way that provides a deeper sense of community, since from a Dagara perspective, it’s hard to conceive of a community if we don’t include the other worlds.
The third session is centered on the subject of having conversation with the other world, with a subheading, which is divination. In the course of that, I remind people that since time immemorial, divination has been the human way to satisfy thirst for knowing the hidden. From the Greek traditions of the diviner as a blind person who ends up seeing better than those with capacity to see; down to all these indigenous oracle readers who are always interested in coming across like the gatekeeper, with a capacity to peek into the other world and report whatever they see.
We get into Dagara divination prophecies, involving in this case cowry shells, the shells from the ocean; which when put together form a certain kind of pattern that translates, or writes down what is going on with a person. So divination becomes the opportunity for people to test this psychic awareness.
In Dagara culture, not everybody’s supposed to be a diviner, but everybody’s supposed to understand divination. So in that case, those who have a calling all of a sudden find themselves really driven to the practice of it, whereas the others end up understanding its structure.
The fourth one is mostly what we call talismanic medicine, my favorite of all the indigenous technologies. The talismanic is
the one that takes us into a deeper understanding of nature and the structure of the natural world, what is in there — the causality of nature and its capacity to transcend matter, as well as opening gateways to new dimensions. All of that is encapsulated in the apparently ‘chaotic’ look of nature.
So in this session, we explore at least the basics that consist of figuring out how to put elements from nature together to create a device capable of enhancing a person’s energy as well as forming a protective shield around the person. So that becomes the most exciting part, because in the end people make talismans for each other, and they even make talismans for their loved ones.
The last session is usually celebratory. We gather together to review all the things we’ve been through and just congratulate ourselves for having made it through.
Donna: Because it is its own initiation, is it not?
Malidoma: Yeah. It is. It is an initiation. It allows for a kind of transition from one state, which is the mundane, into another one, which is the otherworldly sense of reality; which, when incorporated into this mundane sense of reality, can add another dimension, allowing people to be more alert, more aware, and more perceptive.
Donna: Do you find that people feel like they’re living in a more meaningful way if they have that aspect added into their lives? What have you noticed?
Malidoma: Absolutely. The most immediate responses I’ve gotten from people have always been how their lives have changed as a result of partaking in an event. For instance, some people have found their profession, and this profoundly improved and deepened their life experience as a result of the indigenous components being brought to bear.
Also, realizing this tool has helped people to understand certain realities in life that they didn’t have an immediate way of deciphering or understanding, particularly challenges such as how to make sense out of a vision or a dream, an intriguing dream that has visited a person.
This has helped people to understand ritualistically an issue that is presented to them, like a person in relational crisis, or a person who is also looking for an occupation in life as a way of sustaining themselves. The list is expansive.
Donna: May I mention — I read a piece in which you were talking about how in your culture, that instead of just thinking of a dream as an interesting kind of phenomenon that’s separate, you should interact with spirit about it. I thought that was remarkable because so many people in the West are into writing down their dreams and analyzing them, but you were suggesting much more, because again, it’s about relationship.
Malidoma: Well, it is relationship, as with everything else. Information that comes to us through the dream channel is part of the natural interaction that every living being has with the other world. Those who don’t dream are people who don’t have a relationship. But I don’t know anybody who doesn’t dream.
The point about it is, well, in the West, yes; people have an insufficient initiative in reaction to dreaming. By recording a dream, we don’t satisfy the intention of the dream or the purpose of it. It is important when we understand that a dream is a message from the other world that was lodged into our consciousness while we were resting.
It is an indigenous belief that we are more cooperative when we’re sleeping because we let our defenses go. And that’s when spirit takes that moment to come to us and talk to us convincingly through dreams.
So instead of waking up and recording it, which is not a bad idea, it is important to voice to spirits how you have received the dream. There might be a difference between the transmission of the dream and the receiver’s awareness of the content at the other end of the line.
If there is something programmatic about the dream, it means that somehow our intention is being directed toward something that is urgent, and if we happen to not have a clear idea as to what we’re supposed to do, then this is a good time to ask the sender to give us more detail. Some dreams may appear incomplete, and in this case it is a good idea to tell the senders, look, there seems to be missing pieces in the information, at least from where I am as a receiver. What happens then is that the other world takes it into consideration and eventually corrects or elaborates more on what has been transmitted.
Donna: Okay, and this might be expressed in events you notice in daily life as some kind of further transmission, not just in a dream?
Malidoma: Absolutely. Because a dream doesn’t just happen when we’re asleep. What we call a dream is assisting a
person’s instinct, a person’s intuition, and the kind of awareness of sudden insight that we have about something. You may be walking somewhere and then all of a sudden you make a u-turn and can’t explain why you made the turn but you were really sure that this was the right thing to do.
You may never find out what was ahead of you that prompted the loving spirits to find a way to get you to make that u-turn. So it is important to stretch the concept of dream to include phenomena that happens while we’re wide awake.
Donna: I see. When you were talking about talismanic medicine and understanding more about the causality of nature, I
wanted to relate the nudges we are getting from spirit to develop more relationships with other members of creation and the healing involved with that, by working with nature.
Malidoma: Very well noted, yes indeed. There seems to be an increasing call that we pay attention, not just to the immediate geography of our existence, but to make an effort to see the degree to which the immediate geography is connected to other geographies that eventually stretch out and beyond this planet to other unknown areas that know nature, the places that are hosting us down here.
The issue is this, the intelligence of nature is of such sophistication that it keeps an open channel to subspace consciousness, wherein all kinds of sustainable energies are offered, on our behalf and on behalf of the other species.
Consequently, we’re being urged to quit being local and to begin to see the way that anything we do or don’t do affects the cosmic plane. When we start thinking that way, we are not only honoring our own cosmic relationship, but we’re showing the kind of awareness that is really a contribution to human wellness. It is the kind of awareness that we try to get into by creating sacred space and inviting spirits to join us in an effort to take care of something that is of prime importance to us.
Donna: Speaking of healing, I’ve never known so many people in what I would call healing crisis. Having been involved as a healing practitioner, I don’t see healing crisis as inherently a negative thing, even though it’s doing a lot to get your attention. But I’m wondering what you would say about this — is it a big call from spirit?
Malidoma: Well, there are many ways of looking at it. And your way is pretty good. I like to look at it that way. A crisis is not necessarily something bad. It could be a fairly profound blessing disguised like that. At least in Dagara culture, what is clear is that ancestors always get our attention in a way that feels like they’re grabbing a stick and hitting our head with it. It hurts. But also, it gets our attention.
And so in a way, this is a good thing, to be hit in the head like this because we tend to be so easily distracted by other preoccupations. And in the same manner, the deepest crisis can also carry inside of it the biggest blessing ever.
It is perhaps one of the things that we demand, through various behavioral patterns. One thing we may call the self-destructive pattern can be a way for us to call on change from the other world in that particular way. Catastrophe, whether it is man-made or not, oftentimes comes simply because the sum total of human energies combined tend to send a signal that feels like a statement, inviting awakening.
Therefore, we can see that every step we take is a message we send to the other world. Our demeanor is a language. And more than not, it’s a language directed to the other world, and the other world responds. More often than not, the way it gets our attention is quite radical.
This is why crisis cannot be labeled in this definitive fashion as something evil or something unfortunate or anything. Maybe fortune is lodged inside, and in that case, every time we feel ourselves stuck somewhere we may wonder what kind of blessing is hiding behind this darkness.
It is not something we should call for or invite. It’s just that at this juncture, we’re still growing as a species. I don’t know; maybe we’re not qualified yet for even the high school of consciousness. The way we learn is rather sensory. So when one of the sensors gets hit, all of a sudden we pay attention, you know? It should not be dismissed because if it can help us move forward above and beyond the tendency for pettiness, then there’s something good about that.
Donna: I get it. One of the things I have had a lot of personal experience with is the call and response between the human realm and the spirit realm.
Malidoma: Wow. This is perfect, the way you say it — the call and response. As long as this is going on, it means that somehow we can move, and though we can take ourselves away from spirit, we can’t take spirit away from us.
Malidoma: You know? The dance is only happening between this world and the other world of spirit. So we can run, but we cannot shake the other world off of us. Even the most hardheaded person is constantly sending messages forward that are echoed by the other world in a way that looks rather tough. But in the end, it’s a great melody.
Donna: You are quite a diviner; you have quite an ability to see beyond circumstances, I want you to know that.
Malidoma: Oh, thank you.
Donna: In closing I’d like to ask about one of my favorite lines of many you have written: “It’s not a private planet, but a community initiative.”
Malidoma: Oh, yes. Yes. We are part of the whole tribal village. The global village is indeed the place where every so-called individual personal crisis is the business of everybody. The day when nothing is personal will be the day when we will see each one of us as carriers of something that is deemed beneficial to the rest of the community.
Donna: May I ask one little question on that? What are you seeing emerge in people you’re working with, related to ‘being the carriers of the beneficial’?
Malidoma: They call it their life’s purpose. They call it their gifts. People all of a sudden become lit with a sense of belonging, a sense of worth in which the fire that was rather dim in their system starts to go ablaze. It is something very beautiful and stylistically colorful to look at, and where it takes them is down the rabbit hole of creativity and imagination.
To see someone all of a sudden burst into life, realizing that they are worth something and to begin dispensing their gift is, in itself, a blessing really.
Donna Strong is a writer and spiritual midwife, helping others to birth more authentic aspects of themselves. For more, visit www.donnastrong.com
The Ojai Foundation is the host for Malidoma’s workshop intensives in Ojai. To find out more about their sustainable action agenda go to www.ojaifoundation.org
Malidoma Somé travels extensively offering workshops and services utilizing the transformational power of Dagara ritual. For more about his work go to www.malidoma.com