Week four of the Katrina Dreamer Interviews series brings you Daniel Foor, founder and executive director of the Earth Medicine Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks to bring us back into balance with our other-than human relations. He also leads spiritual workshops around the Bay Area that are focused on earth and ancestral healing.
1. What is the importance of nature?
The concept of nature points to a historically recent idea among some humans, especially in modern, Western cultures, that the realm of human activity is somehow separable from the activity of the so-called natural, elemental, or wild Earth. This perceived split enables human behavior that fails to embody moral accountability in our relationships with the many other-than-human beings with whom we share the surface of this planet. When we believe we are separate from “nature”, we tend to objectify our extended family (e.g., animals, plants, mountains, rivers) and set in motion painful feedback loops (e.g., global warming, extinction crisis) that increasingly demand that we bring conscious this perceived separation and re-evaluate our stance on the matter.
One of many forms this re-evaluation is taking in modern, Western cultures is the resurgence of interest in global indigenous traditions (past and present) fueled in large part by the accurate sense that these older ways of life may help guide us in more relational, ethical, and ecologically viable directions. This is also humbling and a tough sell for those in positions of relative political/historical power as it requires confronting a few thousand years of ongoing genocide and brutality toward tribal peoples, including all of our ancestors.
2. How do you connect with nature?
2. How do you connect with nature?
As a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I am blessed to live within an hour’s drive of well over 100 widely varied parks and open space preserves, so my primary strategy is to actually locate my physical body and psyche in these relatively less human-impacted spaces as often as possible. This prevents wilderness from becoming an abstraction; however, getting in my car and driving to the park also risks reinforcing the dualistic human-nature split at the root of the problem (a.k.a. the more I move toward nature, the more I reinforce the half-conscious perception that I’m not nature).
I have different shrines in my home where I feed with offerings, songs, and prayers the deities whose bodies are the elements. The dance and outer play of these elemental and other ancient powers takes form as what we call nature. In some ways feeding the sources of life with modest offerings is like gifting the sun with a candle, but hey, they seem to like it, especially when the offerings are heart-felt, and it’s the most realistic and down-to-earth thing I’ve come to after applying myself to diverse religious and spiritual teachings over the past 15 years. The more wildly destructive aspects of our humanity can be tempered by seeking to fatten with beautiful offerings the strange old powers that we are grown from and will be composted into.
3. How does your work invite others to reconnect with or interact with nature?
I’m blessed to be able to scratch out an existence as a full-time as a ritualist, spiritual mentor, and earth-focused educator. I’ve also recently founded an interfaith non-profit called the Earth Medicine Alliance whose mission is to help human to remember our unity with the living earth and to tend to our alliances with our other relatives. I end up leading about 60 or so community rituals a year, almost all in the Bay Area. Most of these gatherings are outdoors, and all of them in some way seek to jumpstart and maintain a relational ways of life.
I’m in love with the Earth and it’s so painful what’s happening, I really think I would have a psychotic break if I wasn’t able to at least try to be useful in some way in lessening the ecological meltdown in process. I’m just glad I don’t currently have to work a soul-crushing job just to survive like so many of my other brothers and sisters who also love the earth and are trying their best to help get us on track but end up feeling overwhelmed with necessary survival consciousness.
4. What wisdom can you share that can help people establish a relationship with nature?
Get good at grieving, because it’s largely our stubborn and fearful unwillingness to feel deeply the effects of our actions that keeps the nightmare well oiled.
Commit and recommit to our own shadow work and relational healing and family healing, including healing with our ancestors, because we are the Earth too and if we can’t learn how to be kind and loving and skillful with one another, we’re really in for it even worse with respect to the larger planetary ecosystem.
Stop travelling so much or fantasizing about having enough money to travel and really get to know and love your home and what is nearby. If you want to study indigenous wisdom, fall in love with your home and ask your local spirits of place what they would like from you. We need more people who feel so attached to the local beings and spirits that it hurts in their bodies when the land is desecrated. It takes courage to love this boldly and if you aren’t able to grieve then you’ll go crazy when the bulldozers come and the frogs are born wrong, but hey, this is what we’re doing and if we can’t see it and feel it for what it is, then the nightmare will just roll on full speed ahead.
5. Anything else you'd like to add?
Something that nobody taught me and that it took a decade of studying shamanism to piece together is that rituals, at least most of the time, seem to work best when they’re not exactly focused on the living humans present but rather on feeding or somehow tending to our relationship to this or that being or old natural power. If you’re called to ritual or shamanism or whatever it’s called these days, see what happens if you make pleasing the ancient ones that hold up the Earth the focus of your work for a while and see if it doesn’t ratchet up your practice in a good way and put you on the radar of some cool old beings.
Learning how to be of truly effective service to others of all shapes and sizes is probably the best thing we can do for our sanity and health, and this almost always requires working and playing in the vessel of community, which in turn requires a showdown with all of our unexamined and unhealed conditioning and trauma, so give lots of space to the year-after-year gritty work of become a wise, loving, and fun to be around person.
Daniel Foor, Ph.D., is a practitioner of earth-honoring traditions in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has studied world religion for 15 years with an emphasis on diverse forms of shamanism and indigenous wisdom, including the traditions of his recent European ancestors. Daniel offers trainings and rituals focused on work with the natural/elemental worlds and ancestors as well as individual healing and mentorship sessions: www.ancestralmedicine.org. Daniel is also the founder and executive director of the Earth Medicine Alliance, an interfaith non-profit supporting earth-honoring ways of life: www.earthmedicine.org