In contemporary Western culture the noun parent has also become a verb: parenting. I often impress on students the fact that (despite the harrowing events of the twentieth century) we essentially still live in the Post-Romantic period: there are very specific cultural filters in operation that we all wear (like a pair of glasses) without being aware of them.
Courtesy of depth psychology we have a heightened awareness today of the impact our childhood experiences have on our functioning in later life.
The term “depth psychology” was coined at the turn of the twentieth century by Eugen Bleuler, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Zürich and director (1898-1927) of the Burghölzli Asylum in Zürich, where C. G. Jung began his career as a psychiatrist. It has become used by Freudians and Jungians to indicate those psychologies that orient themselves around the idea of the “unconscious.”
Such awareness is a good thing. Socrates already said that the unexamined life is not worth living. On a personal level I agree with this: it is through ruthless self-examination and shadow work that we learn about the Big Things in Life – the things that are not taught in school but make or break us.
A famous – if controversial – claim was once posited by Phillipe Aries, a social historian from France, who argued that the notion of ‘childhood’ was not in existence during medieval times. Aries emphasised that the ‘idea’ of childhood is to a large extent socially constructed; in different cultures and at various points throughout history, the concept of childhood has taken on a range of meanings, and children have fulfilled a variety of roles and undertaken myriad activities (Aries, 1965: 22). Rather than being a clearly defined stage in human development, childhood is a construct of society.
As the author of Natural Born Shamans I would like to add the following: my own historical reading over the years (in nearly twenty languages) leads me to believe that the notion of ‘childhood’ depended on both circumstances and the means of the parents. Rich and privileged people have always been able to shelter their children more than poor and disenfranchised people (and this remains a brutal fact today). Major traumatic events such as wars have disrupted the ordinary lives of many families and thrown children into dangerous circumstances that could not have been foreseen by the parents at the time of their birth. My own grandmother was sent to a posh house to be a maid of all work, at age twelve, in the Netherlands of the early twentieth century. Here she ruined her knees for life (by being forced to kneel for hours daily, scrubbing and polishing vast expanses of floor by hand) and she was sexually assaulted by the pater familias (and, we have reason to think, one of the sons of the house). My grandmother, in later life, did not like talking about this period, so we do not have all the facts.
In Western culture today a twelve-year old girl is required to be in school (or at least home-schooled) and receive a higher education. By today’s standards sending out a girl that age as a servant to a rich family, (so she would earn money for her family of birth with the double benefit of there being one mouth less to feed at home), would be considered a form of child abuse. This immediately illustrates how the norms for such things can shift even within one family and within just one century. (In the 1980s, in the same country, there was no question that I was going to attend secondary school and continue my education at age twelve!)
Between depth-psychology and the filter of the Romantic period (childhood as a relatively idyllic time free of the pressures that adults face, at least during a period of peace and political stability) we now actively engage in a sacred art called parenting. Courtesy of medical advances we all have access to contraception so most of us now choose (accidents and infertility issues excepted):
- - If we want children
- - When in life to have children
- - The number of children we will have
Because having children is a conscious choice in our culture, along with this we shoulder an extremely heavy responsibility for the well-being of those children. In many ways this is exactly as things should be: children need all the love, security and protection they can get. Many modern parents are running themselves ragged, ferrying their children to “enrichment activities”, buying them expensive branded clothing so they “blend in”, sitting up late at night to do “quality time” after a long working day, lovingly preparing meals from organically grown ingredients. In many ways this IS parenting, it is part of the deal!
Courtesy of depth psychology most parents now know that “early experiences can damage children for life”. As a mother of three children I have attended mother-and-toddler groups where other mums have told me that “my daughter still wakes up four times a night at age four, but I am afraid that taking action on this [i.e. imposing a form of controlled crying] will damage her for life”. Or: “My three-year old son’s behaviour is out of control and he does not listen to one word I say, but surely this is better than him being damaged for life, right?!” Indulgent smile… Other mums constantly flying out of their seats (with nursing babies latched on!) to rescue their own children from this playgroup bully… -A mental note is made. Some children are not invited to birthday parties for "several decades to come"… Of course we hope that this will not “damage them for life” but then again we do not want our own children harmed either… do we? And how is anyone going to be a calm and confident parent on a huge sleep deficit?!
A degree of anxiety around this is normal. However, an even larger shadow is now looming. Because we are aware of this issue, we stand in judgment more easily: if a child misbehaves, has a dreadful accident, or behaves in dysfunctional ways, we become amateur depth psychologists and comment with a grave expression: “We all know how adverse early childhood experiences affect children. This is clearly related to something the parents did -or failed to do”. This mind-set obviously makes life almost unbearable for families of non-neurotypical children, meaning all families dealing with any child that is not born wired the mainstream way.
The New Age (we are collectively leaving the Age of Pisces and entering the Age of Aquaries, courtesy of the Precession of the Equinoxes) has brought us ways of thinking that range from empowering (“actively release limiting beliefs!”) to fluffy: “I can be or create anything I like! There are no limits! I have no fears!”
The words “fate” or “destiny” are no longer cool. We believe that we create our own luck and our own destiny through making the right choices and dropping the right psychic luggage. This idea is not without foundation (these ideas can definitely transform lives!) but it is not the whole and only truth either. In my work (as an international teacher of Sacred Art and Seidr/Northern Tradition material) I observe that every human life comes up against (invisible or cosmic) restrictions. In the Northern Tradition this is the realm of the Naud (Nauthiz) rune, the rune of Necessity and the Norns (the Norse “Fates”).
Because the romantic notion of an idyllic childhood is so vivid and attractive (if perhaps statistically rare!) we lose track of this. It is my observation (based on years of shamanic healing work with individual clients) that restriction courtesy of “Fate” remains in operation as a key shaping force, as much as ever. Psychoanalyst and author Liz Greene (I am currently reading her fabulous book “The Astrology of Fate”) says that astrologers and depth psychologists encounter Fate in their work, in a way no other profession does. To this I will add: “and so do tribal shamans, shamanic practitioners or practitioners of Seidr: the Seiðmaðr or Seiðkona”.
The notion of the idyllic childhood gives many of us grief. We end up comparing our own childhood with this ideal (and the shortfalls in this can make us quite angry and resentful for years!) I know that I felt morally obliged to provide “the unattainable” for our three sons. They all started life screen-free and sugar-starved and then Life happened. Grandfathers died, accidents occurred, life-saving surgery was administered, body parts were lost… along the road to young adulthood. Shamanism calls such key life events initiations.
I propose that we parents still try as hard as we humanly can to provide stability and security for our children and a loving home environment above all. However, I also believe that it is time to “get real” and look at the Karma of Kids, or the Fate of Families.
Liz Greene says that one astounding insight offered by astrology is that certain hardships, struggles or archetypal traumas and storylines (or at least a strong indication of them occurring) already appear in the natal chart of any individual, meaning long before Life and Parents strike their blows and “do their worst” . A good astrologer could look at the chart of an unborn baby (say one where the exact time of birth by means of a Caesarian section has already been set for medical reasons!) and write a fairly accurate prediction of the key issues that are going to play out in this person’s life (not the details or exactly how they will manifest -human beings flex their free will in how these things play out - but the dynamics, the underlying pattern). All this before the baby takes his or her first breath and its parents technically and actively become parents (rather than a pregnant couple)! This ought to make us think…
One equally astounding insight offered by my own shamanic practice (years of offering one-to-one shamanic healing work) is that the cosmic blueprint of unresolved issues and learning to be done on the level of soul (based on previous incarnations) is an exact match for the energetic blueprint of the family a person is born into. My clients (and students) often ask me “Is this ancestral stuff or is it psychic luggage I still carry from a previous lifetime?” A gifted shamanic practitioner will be able to tell the difference, but in reality it does not matter. Some larger cosmic intelligence involves all of us in a divine match-making process and the perfect match unfailingly occurs.
This then means that there is little point in staying enraged with our parents until our own dying day. Our parents in turn were formed by their parents (as well as a specific era in history and world events) and this is how ancestral issues travel if they are not healed. They continue to seek healing through the living. If we die without healing them, they will manifest in our descendants (Those As Yet Unborn), our children’s children, our tribe’s children (if we do not have personal children).
So… what I propose today is that we take the “idyllic childhood concept” as an inspiration (or even aspiration!) but not an Inner Dictator who watches and criticizes our every parenting move. Many world religions other than Christianity (but not all, for instance Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism) teach a belief in reincarnation (“a wheel of multiple rebirths” we ultimately need to try and escape from).
By means of this blog I suggest that we open ourselves to some different ways of viewing this complex issue:
If we accept that there is a karmic dynamic of attraction between parents and children, this does not give us any right to abuse them BUT it will help us see that, on the level of soul, they choose us for our failings as much as for our star qualities. They trust that we will offer the perfect learning journey for their soul in this lifetime
Having worked with seriously challenged children I also observe that some children (who arrive with seemingly insurmountable issues in this lifetime) choose their families because they know that these parents will have the strength and qualities to support the journey they need to make. These parents have not failed on any level at all -they have been picked for an exceptionally difficult and important task!
Accepting this can facilitate a move from a place of blaming to a more compassionate place of curiosity: what patterns are running in my family (and therefore they pose a red thread connecting the natal charts of all members of my family of birth)? How have I blindly played my role in the continuation of this, until now? How does awareness of this issue change my attitude or approach? Are there ways I can unhook myself from this, or free myself from the more severe outcomes by willingly embracing certain restrictions that apply to this lifetime?
Entertaining this world view can make us more compassionate: rather than viewing our parents as “perpetrators” we start seeing them as people enmeshed in the same dynamics that cause difficulties and suffering in our lives. People will only ever meet this challenge on the level of consciousness they have at a given time. We are fortunate in that we have easy (one click!) access to a lot of information that many people in my parents’ generation or earlier never came in contact with. (My 81-year old mother does not own a computer and neither would she know how to navigate the internet).
Once we master this we can step away from viewing many other everyday encounters as “us being victimised”. We can take our power back and make different choices, not play ball, not allow certain actions or reactions to crush our soul. Instead we stay curious and alert, we observe, we say ourselves: “Ah, so this is where you are right now… interesting glimpse of the inner workings of your mind! (But nothing here is my fault necessarily!)” If a student yells at me that: “You remind me of my mother!!” (and this is generally not intended as compliment) then there is only one response to that: “Take time out of class and work through you mother issues. You will learn an incredible amount about yourself along the way and you are not fit to be a practitioner handling the souls of others, until you achieve a much higher level of awareness of this!
We live in a very individualist and consumerist society: I want X-Y-Z and I want it now! We all need to look after Number One, don’t we?!
Working with the Norns in the Northern Tradition brings us back to the rune I mentioned earlier: Naud or Nauthiz (Necessity). Once we embrace the fact that our individual freedom (and that includes the unconscious fantasy of a life without our dysfunctional family in it!) has the lines of Fate carved right across it (the Norse are said to carve Ørlog, primal law, what has been written –or literally carved) this allows us to focus more fully on the opportunities which remain open to us. It encourages us to go deeper. One positive meaning of the concept restriction (and therefore the Naud Rune) is discipline!
Then there is the uplifting effect: if we see parents of severely challenged children as ordinary people selected for an extraordinary task – we don’t drag them down with our own negative projections!
One headline in the news today is “Vietnam veteran, 69, killed saving three-year-old granddaughter from house explosion”. He carried her to safety following a gas explosion at his home in Oklahoma after his phone melted in the heat of the flames so he could not call for help. Our initial reaction may well be: “Goodness, this man lived through the Vietnam War and now he dies like this – he does not deserve that!” Another way of looking at this is through the Old Norse lens of perception: the Vikings much preferred being killed in action to dying a “straw death” (meaning a death of old age in bed) because it set in motion a Hero’s Journey to Valhalla, Odin’s Hall of the Slain Warriors. According to the article this man’s son commented that “He was an old man and he shouldn’t have been able to do what he did”. Perhaps a man who survived a vicious war would prefer to die a Hero’s death, saving the life of his beloved granddaughter? Perhaps he deserves only admiration, not pity?
I hope that this blog invites some of you to rethink your perception of kids and karma, of fate and families. We cannot choose our fate - but we can choose our lens of perception.
Imelda Almqvist, London, 1 October 2019
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of shamanism and sacred art. So far she has published two books: Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit for Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) in 2016 and Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) in 2019. She has presented her work on both The Shift Network and Sounds True. She appears in a TV program titled Ice Age Shaman, made for the Smithsonian Museum, in the series Mystic Britain talking about Neolithic arctic deer shamanism. Her third book, Medicine of the Imagination ( Dwelling in possibility) will be published by Moon Books in 2020.
Imelda was a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit in both 2016 and 2017 and on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She is a regular presenter on The Shamanic Path with Sounds True. She appears in a TV program made for the Smithsonian Channel (the series is called Mystic Britain) about the Mesolithic site Star Carr in Yorkshire talking about arctic deer shamanism! Imelda divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. She has just finished her third book “Medicine of the Imagination: Dwelling in Possibility” and has started her fourth book, about the pre-Christian spirituality of The Netherlands.