The Southern Ocean: An Illustrated Lecture by Steven B. Young

7PM Wednesday, November 16
The Southern Ocean: An Illustrated Lecture by Steven B. Young
Fairbanks Museum, St. Johnsbury

worldThe Southern Ocean lies to the south of all continents except Antarctica.  It stretches in a continuous band around the world in high southern latitudes.  Its strong currents isolate Antarctica from the rest of the world, and they have an enormous effect on climate, past and present.  The Southern Ocean and its islands provide a unique habitat for whales, penguins, and a host of other creatures.
Paleoecologist Steven Young will talk about his visits to many Antarctic seas and lands, including Elephant Island, which featured prominently in Shackleton’s adventures. The lecture will be illustrated with many color slides, including some of birds and beasts with which you may not be familiar!

Jane English: The Ceremony Cards, Introduction & Workshop

6:30PM Wednesday, December 2

Cafe Anna, College Hall, Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier

ceremonycardsFor millennia, the Kalaallit (Greenlandic) people not only survived but thrived in a land of cold winter darkness and summer midnight sun, a place where the natural world was both spectacularly beautiful and unforgivingly harsh. Survival required that practical knowledge and skills be integrated with a rich inner life so that, within each person, family and community, both the seen and the unseen were woven intricately together in the ceremony of life.

Please join us for an introductory workshop with the Ceremony Cards, which were developed to capture both the natural wonder of the Greenlandic landscape and the traditional wisdom of the Greenlandic culture. The Ceremony Cards combine evocative photographs of Greenland with words and phrases from Greenlandic culture. Using the cards as a divination tool allows wisdom from the Far North to spark and facilitate a conversation within (and amongst) ourselves, a conversation in which the Ceremony Cards are an invaluable inspirational aid, especially for those of us who are just coming to know and trust our own intuition.

In an illustrated presentation, Jane will share some of the insights from Greenland that led her to develop the Ceremony Cards and will explain some of the ways in which the cards may be used. Participants will be able to break into small groups to use and play with the Ceremony Cards. Sets of Ceremony Cards, as well as some of Jane’s books, photographs and 2016 calendars, will be available for purchase.

Visit to learn more about the cards. Jane’s paper on divination is also available on the website (, and you can see some of Jane’s books and calendars here –

janeenglishJane English, who holds a doctorate in experimental sub-atomic particle physics from the University of Wisconsin, is a well-known author and photographer of nature whose images illustrate a best-selling translation of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, which she completed with her late husband, Gia-fu Feng. She is an active elder with the EarthWalk Vermont program. Since 2007, Jane has “walked with” the Greenlandic elder Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, and has traveled to Greenland four times.

Chasing Ice: Screening & Discussion

7PM Monday, November 9

Simpson 3, Sterling College Craftsbury Common

chasingiceposterPlease join us for a Special Screening of this award-winning documentary on climate change. Center for Circumpolar representatives will be on hand to facilitate Discussion following the film.

Acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog went to the Arctic on assignment for National Geographic to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.

Cliick here to watch the trailer.

Sas Carey: Discussion & Film Screening

7PM Tuesday, October 27
Catamount Arts, St Johnsbury

ceremony posterPlease join us as we welcome Director Sas Carey for a Discussion & Special Screening of her evocative documentary film exploring the shamanic practices of the Mongolian Reindeer Herders.

CEREMONY is a spiritual journey among shamans in northern Mongolia. The documentary revolves around a specific ceremony in the steppes. Outside we see mists with reindeer emerging, smoke coming from stovepipes through the poles of the Siberian tipis or urts, animals grazing on the steppe, and the moon in a clear sky. Inside, we experience a mysterious ritual as a shaman slips into a trance around midnight when the stars come out. The master shaman beats the drum, chants, dances, and takes on the spirit. He then motions to his young shaman apprentice to begin playing a mouth harp. The shaman and others give commentaries on the events during the ceremony to help the viewer comprehend the mysterious phenomenon.

Watch the trailer here:

Mongolia Map

unnamedSas Carey, Founder and Director of Nomadicare, is a nurse and energy healer trained in Traditional Tibetan-Mongolian Medicine. With a merger of East and West, she advocates traditional and modern medicine for nomads, which  promotes their cultural survival. Since 1994, Sas has been connecting with nomads, assessing needs and supplying them. She is the director and producer of several films, including the feature documentary Gobi Women’s Song, and she is the author of Reindeer Herders in My Heart: Stories of Healing Journeys in Mongolia (2012, Wren Press, Vermont).

What in the world!

cropped essay photoWhat’s THAT in Bill Fitzhugh’s backpack?

Object 1. [far left, Horse Tooth] Electrical insulator? Ceramic kiln waster? Wrong on both counts! This is a 3000-year old horse tooth from the Mongolian steppe. I have been excavating Bronze Age Deer Stones in Mongolia for the past twelve years. One thousand deer stones—megalithic granite plinths standing for warriors—are among the most enigmatic monuments known from Central Asia. Their true age remained unknown until Smithsonian and Mongolian archaeologists discovered sacrificed horses arranged in rings around the deer stones. By radiocarbon-dating horse remains, we discovered the deer stones date to 700-1200 B.C. Horse teeth like this molar were the most reliable dating samples.

Object 2. [second from left, Swordfish Harpoon] The earliest harpoons in the world come from the Rift Valley in East Africa, date some 50-60,000 years old, and were used for catching fish. Toggling harpoons like this one can capture much larger animals, and were first invented by early maritime hunters in northern Japan about 6-7,000 years ago. They work by ‘toggling’ beneath the skin and blubber, allowing hunters to capture seals, walrus, and whales. This bronze harpoon is used by swordfish hunters along the New England coast. I bought this one in Chatham, Massachusetts. Its form copies a style of toggling harpoon used by Greenland Eskimos that was passed on to Dutch whalers in the 17th century.

Object 3. [third from left, Chinese Roof Tile] This fragment of green-glazed Chinese roof tile comes from the spoil piles of the German excavations at Kharakorum, the capitol city of the Great Mongol Empire. Kharakorum was founded in 1235 by Ogodei Khan, one of Genghis Khan’s sons, and was not finished until the 1260s. William of Rubruck, a Franciscan monk and emissary of the Pope, visited the city in 1254 and described its thirteen temples of many different religious denominations, including a Nestorian Christian church. It also had artists’ shops and the khan’s Great Palace, which Rubruck described as having a silver tree designed by the French goldsmith, Guillaume Boucher, which delivered fermented mare’s milk and four other liquors from its branches.

Object 4. [fourth from left, Inuksuk Model] Thule Eskimos and their Inuit descendents built inuksuks (“like a man”) as geographic and spiritual markers throughout the Central Canadian Arctic. Made of rough unhewn stones and assembled in the likeness of a human being, inuksuks have become the iconic motif of the Canadian Arctic and its Inuit people. Their original use is obscure, but their placement at prominent locations suggests use as geographic markers and way-finding aids. Others were erected in converging caribou drive lines to mimic humans and scare caribou into locations where they could be killed.

Object 5. [fifth from left, Iron Spike] Railroad spikes are pretty common, and their trail can be found girdling the world. Despite their ubiquity, some have more historical value than others! This spike comes from a section of Stalin’s gulag railway near Salekhard, north of the Arctic Circle at the mouth of the Ob River in Western Siberia (Russia). I collected this souvenir during an archaeological survey with Russian colleagues in the 1990s. The rail lines connect Stalin’s forced labor camps across the Russian Arctic and was built and maintained by tens of thousands of political prisoners, most of whom died in the process. Much of the steel rails and iron spikes were produced by German and American industry to aid in “developing Russia’s post-WWII economy.”

Object 6. [far right, Atlas vertebra] This small bone is the first cervical vertebra of a small seal. It is called the atlas vertebra because it articulates with the base of the skull, whose weight is borne on its two broad, wing-like flanges. The atlas has a small hole into which fits the pin-like bone extension on the upper surface of the axis vertebra, the second cervical vertebra, so-named because it allows the cranium to rotate easily right to left.

William W. Fitzhugh is a specialist in circumpolar anthropology and archaeology who has spent more than forty years studying and publishing on arctic peoples and cultures in northern Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Mongolia. He is founder and Director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a Trustee of The Center for Circumpolar Studies.

Register now to find out more about what Bill has in his backpack at The Arctic Roadshow, from 1-5PM on Saturday, March 22, at the Hulbert Outdoor Center, Fairlee, VT.

CCS/WREAF 2014 Artists’ Showcase & Art Auction

Opening 10am Sunday, November 23rdAlpine-Summer-72-_5x6.8-.jpg

The Wilderness River Expedition Art Fellowship (CCS/WREAF) Program, under the inspired leadership of Rob Mullen, encourages nature artists to live their art on extended, self-supported river expeditions in some of the most rugged and remote regions of the world. The arduous rigors and sublime joys of wilderness canoe travel provide intense experiences that inform the artists, ensuring that the artwork remains grounded in the realities of the natural world.

The resulting artwork, however varied, is connected by a thread of shared adventure and experience. By exhibiting these individual visions together, usually within a natural history context, we work to raise awareness of the areas in which these rivers run. A principal focus of WREAF expeditions has been the North American portion of the Circumpolar Boreal Forest – the largest terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, critical for global climate, fresh water, indigenous cultures, wildlife and birds.

We are delighted to present this showcase for CCS/WREAF artists, featuring 41 original artworks from 9 exceptional artists. In addition to supporting the work of these artists, your purchases will help support CCS/WREAF programming. Thank you for participating!

View Auction and Bid Now!

View the Catalog


Shamans and Ethics in a Global World

Until recently the shaman was the heartbeat of a tightly knit indigenous or traditional community that integrated the social and spiritual, material and mythic realms. The shaman, as keeper of generations of accumulated knowledge and experience, entered ecstatic flight not for personal gain or to foster inner growth, but to maintain a reciprocal relationship between the human and the other-than-human worlds, to talk with the spirits and return with wisdom and healing. Today many who dub themselves shamans no longer belong to a culture of community embedded in such a shamanic perspective, but rather come from the present generation of those primarily searching to find themselves. Thus, many of the new shamans are ill equipped to engage in their practice of working with clients who come to them with a variety of physical, psychic, and spiritual ailments. The traditional indigenous shaman has the accumulated cultural experience and wisdom of generations of healers connected to a cosmology that gives meaning to both the illnesses and the shamanic processes of healing. By contrast, many of the new shamans have but limited knowledge of any cosmology that could inform and surround them with a sense of rootedness and ultimate meaning. Many of them receive limited training, some only from second- or third-hand sources, such as anthropologists who once came in contact with shamanism during their fieldwork, or from persons who have had no direct or primary personal experience of the shamanic craft. Perhaps worst of all, some new shamans believe such information and experience can be gleaned from books, without any human teacher whatsoever. All of this results in isolating the new shamans from a conceptual and contextual community with an integrated worldview and mythos.

A Sami shaman with his magic drum (meavrresgárri). Copper  carving by O.H. von Lode, for a book by Knud Leem, “Beskrivelse over Finnmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levenmaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse”

A Sami shaman with his magic drum (meavrresgárri). Copper carving by O.H. von Lode, for a book by Knud Leem, “Beskrivelse over Finnmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levenmaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse”

This isolation from the checks and balances that a supportive, and also critical, community provides places these new shamans in the ethically questionable situation of conducting traditional shamanic practices, such as attempting to heal illnesses of the body, mind, or spirit, outside of the bond that informed and tied the earlier shaman to a cultural community. They are, in fact, outside of any long-standing tradition altogether. This same isolation is the cause of many problems that face the new shamans. Especially this is true in issues of ethics, which depend on a cultural context for their resolution.

Even though no less a scholar than Mircea Eliade applies the term shaman more or less across the board to anyone who undertakes “magical flight,” who “specializes in a trance during which his soul is believed to leave his body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld,” Eliade does add this essential qualifier which we would do well to remember: “As for the shamanic techniques of ecstasy, they do not exhaust all the varieties of ecstatic experience documented in the history of religions and religious ethnology. Hence any ecstatic cannot be considered a shaman.”

Does this leave us with a clear picture of who the shaman is or of what the shaman does with regard to trance or magical flight? No, and this is the point. The picture is not one but many, because of the incredible richness and diversity of cultural experiences throughout the world. This makes it both hard and easy to use the term shaman. Hard, because it is not always readily apparent who among the various practitioners in a society are shamans, or healers, dreamers, witches and wizards, priestesses and priests, etc. The lines between these categories and others are not consistent among the many peoples of the world. Easy, because the title shaman can thus be readily slipped on, like a second-hand sweater, even when there may be no justification for it.

Despite the restraint of scholars, the situation today is that the term shaman has been usurped by the popular imagination and the popular marketplace, and is now superimposed on all manner of persons who bear little or no resemblance to a traditional shaman in any culture. Without a community that recognizes the new shamans as an integral part of the culture, what makes these people, in fact, shamans at all except that they so call themselves? Attendant on this is the issue of what techniques and practices the new shaman is competent to carry out, and how to avoid the problems of ego inflation, lust for power, greed, and other psychological issues that can arise to test integrity.

Those who seek to manipulate the day to day ordinary world by reaching their hands into the other world of the spirits to bring back other-worldly powers open themselves to the possibility of encountering spirits that harm as well as spirits that heal. Dare we doubt that this can be so? Frank Speck told us that among the Penobscot, the mede’olinas.kwei was “accredited with the power to kill or injure creatures by pointing a finger at them.” The power to do such malevolent work comes from the dark side of the spirit world, which one can also encounter in trance, and which can be called to oneself if taken over by the motive to seize power for harm. The shaman can be possessed by the greed for power over others, the power that injures, just as much as the shaman can be motivated to work with spirits who provide power on behalf of others, the power that heals.

Let us look at this carefully. Power is directed by the shaman’s own inner will for evil or for good. In this sense, power itself is neutral and available to the shaman who shapes power by intention, desire, motive, drive, and will. Especially for the new shaman, isolated from a watchful community, it is more difficult to remain pure in heart with regard to issues of power. The fact that the petitioner receives information or direction from the spirit world to act in a certain way or to do a certain thing does not in and of itself justify that action or guarantee that that action will be benevolent. All manner of spirits are there to lead those who turn to the spirit world. But which spirits come to the petitioner depends totally on the integrity and intention of the one seeking them. When the shaman holds clearly the map of the community’s mythos, then the shaman is able to discern among the spirits and to perceive the meaning or truth of the messages the spirits deliver.

The person who talks with spirits must be able to tell what is good information from what is not good information. Here the purpose, the reason, for seeking spirit aid means everything. The shaman, according to Eliade, is able “to communicate” with spirits in the other world “without thereby becoming their instrument.” We must also add to this, that the shaman is able first to identify who the spirits are who respond to the drumming call, and then, second, not to be seduced by these spirits or possessed by them. Possession by spirits in trance does occur, even among shamans, but the main distinguishing mark of the shaman is the ability to be in two worlds at once, in this world and in the other world simultaneously.

The issue of what kind of spirits choose to speak to the practitioner does not arise when the person is disciplined, aware of the dangers, is being clear with her- or himself about underlying motives, and is paying attention to which spirits are speaking in reply.

The problem is more likely to happen when the practitioner forgets or ignores the discipline, and allows vigilance to wander or waver. Under these circumstances, such a person may well be unaware of how difficult it is to recognize or acknowledge that the spirit who visits may be a projection of his own mind and not a genuine vision visited on his trance mind from the spirit world. Either consciously or unconsciously, each of us can be facile in duping ourselves into thinking or believing whatever serves our ends.

Without a map of the cultural, contextual mythos to which the practitioner belongs, how can such a person possibly evaluate what comes through from the so-called spirit world? How can such a person discriminate between wishful thinking, wish fulfillment and the genuine thing? Only with vigilance and the constant discipline of honestly examining one’s own motives, of brining one’s deepest urges for power and control to light, can one get beyond one’s own shadow self.

Today, where is the community that is consciously wakeful to what the magician, the shaman, is doing and so is able and ready to hold up the mirror of critique or censure?

Perhaps the new shamans should consider whether it is important or appropriate in any way to call themselves shamans in order to practice whatever techniques they have mastered for the benefit of others. For some few, perhaps, who are willing and able to make the lifetime commitment to the discipline that is required, it is appropriate. But for most others, the mantle of the shaman is only a veneer, an outer covering, which they put on and take off as convenient. Better, and more honest, to think of themselves, and call themselves by some other name than by the name that carries with it the weight and responsibility of shaman. However, by whatever title one assumes, the ethical issues remain. As soon as one presumes to be in contact with spirits and powers in the other world, in the world one can contact through trance, then one takes on at the very least the responsibility to act with ethical clarity.

The many roles of the ancient shaman will never totally be acted out again; the world is too much altered and changed. Yet there are aspects of the ancient work that are still valid today because all people share basic human needs for the nourishment and well-being of the body, mind, and spirit. So long as these aspects of life remain ephemeral and uncertain, there will always be a place for the person who can provide relief from the illnesses, pains, and insecurities that humans suffer. The challenge for the new shaman today, if indeed there must be new shamans, is to maintain a strong personal ethical balance, free of self-delusion. This requires wisdom and knowledge and a lifetime commitment to this awesome responsibility. For some few, this may be possible. For most, it is better to use their abilities in more contained but equally effective ways, as doctors, psychotherapists, teachers, artists, writers, priests, and others for whom having a relationship with the spirit world is essential for the fulfillment of what they do. For this kind of life, the title of shaman is both misleading and unnecessary.

In the past, the shaman was the center of a small, tightly knit community that saw itself as The People, and who believed their home place was the center of the world. Today no people can afford such luxury. Every people is inter-connected with every other people around the globe. The shaman today, if there are to be shamans today, must break free of the limited, restricted, ethnocentric view of the past, and must regard the whole world as the home place. They must go beyond all national, cultural, and ethnic barriers; the term shaman may no longer be able to carry the additional meaning of the person whose community is the world, and whose duty it is to engage in helping to heal the world.

By: Eleanor Kokar Ott