Return of the Bird Tribes – Ken Carey – March BBBR

Return of the Bird Tribes
Ken Carey
HarperSanFrancisco, 1988
252 pages

I bet you thought I forgot about this month’s Bargain Bin Book Review! Nope. I’ve just been pretty busy, but technically it *is* still March, and I do reserve the right to post the BBBR any time in the month. That being said, I will try to be a little earlier about it. But without further ado, here’s this month’s BBBR.

I was thrilled when I found this book on the bargain rack, since it was one that I’d been wanting to read for quite some time. I’d heard it was partly totemic, partly Otherkin-related, and so my curiosity was piqued.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the result. This is one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of the New Age. The author claims to have channelled the entire work through communication with a “higher being” that watches over humanity, and is in fact one of a number of these higher beings. As is common among New Age channelling, the message is uber-positive, “love” and “peace” are thrown around like confetti, and the general message is “This generation is ever so special–time for you to realize your potential!”

Nowe, I have nothing against love, peace, and achieving one’s full potential as an individual and as part of a society. Gods know we need more of that. The problem is that this particular conveyance of that message is wrapped up in a bunch of cultural appropriation and seriously revisionist history. We have a Caucasian, New Age author supposedly channelling information about Native American cultures, everything from White Buffalo Calf Woman to Hiawatha and the Iroquois League (the entity he’s channelling supposedly was one of the main players at the forming of that treaty). It’s pretty much a cliche, and it’s a classic example of cultural appropriation. And, also in the style of the New Age, the channelling includes the idea that, prior to a point 2,500 years ago (conveniently at a time and place where we have no written history) the Native Americans were all peaceful and living in a virtual utopia–I’m surprised he didn’t try to claim they were all vegan. And all of human history has apparently been manipulated by these higher powers–apparently humans themselves can’t understand reality beyond a certain point; we have to have a higher spirit to help us.

Now, I have no issue with Unverified Personal Gnosis. However, it’s important to view any UPG, no matter how inspired, with constructive criticism. The fact that most of the material matches with New Age revisionist history rather than commonly accepted history should be cause, at the very least, for skeptical comparison. The entire work, though, is presented as genuine, without any critique or questioning whatsoever. No, it’s not romantic to analyze one’s meditations and question them. But it’s also not healthy to romanticize Native Americans as the “Noble Savages” while thousands are barely scraping by on reservations across the country.

This book would have been better off if the author had taken the results of his channelling efforts and distilled them into a direct critique of modern society, adding a grain of salt for good measure. He could have discussed the virtues of literal vs. metaphorical understanding of what he received. There are some good points in here, including the idea that a person can evolve beyond the basics of everyday life, and that the way we’re doing things now is a Bad Idea. However, they’re so wrapped up in apocalyptic fantasy, cultural appropriation and the basic assertion that we’re essentially being directed by higher powers (instead of by our own wills) that the lessons in here are all but lost in a sea of drek.

One and a half pawprints out of five.

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1 Comment

  1. sophia said,

    January 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    first of all, why is the fact that he’s caucasian even relevant at all?

    and it’s all about different strokes for different folks. I personally have read enough ‘direct critiques of modern society’ and am very interested in channeled information. a lot of it rings true for me. however, it is important to use discernment. it is up to YOU as the reader to add a grain of salt for good measure, not the writer.

    I don’t need a whole lot of detailed specifics for something to hit home. it’s a feeling that I get when I come across certain information that keeps me seeking. the words are pointing towards a grander understanding of things… do not busy yourself too much over the road signs, but use them for direction and keep on your way.


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