Mistapeo, a travelling companion

The existence of a soul or inner centre, or something above and beyond purely mans physical existence, has dominated spiritual and philosophical thought throughout the ages;

The existence of a soul or inner centre, or something above and beyond purely mans physical existence, has dominated spiritual and philosophical thought throughout the ages; the Greeks expressed the concept as an inner daimon, the Egyptians expressed the same through the concept of the Ba-soul, which in material form is depicted as a human-headed hawk. The Romans worshipped it as the “genius" that everyone was given at birth. In more primitive societies this inner centre was externalised in the form of guardian-protective spirits, which were most often materialised in animal form or as a sacred fetish.

In an unusually pure form this inner centre forms a central part of the belief system of the Canadian Naskapi-Indians. This nomadic tribe hunt sea animals in the summer such as whales and seals and move inland to pursue caribou in winter. Wigwams made of birch bark and caribou skins are their homes and birch-bark canoes, snowshoes and sleds are their means of travel across the inland tundra and coastal regions of the Labrador Peninsula. The Naskapi are descended from the nomadic caribou hunters who lived on the sub-arctic barren ground in the Ungava region of Quebec. The Naskapi were possibly the last of the native groups to have sustained contact with Europeans. They live as nomadic hunters in isolated family groups so scattered across a vast territory of a harsh, barren inland tundra and a cold, unforgiving coastal landscape that they have never been able to develop tribal rites or any common religious community.

As they thrive in what is almost lifelong solitude in a topography mainly consistent of glacially eroded mountains, extensive river systems, a tremendous number of glacially formed lakes and a coastline rough and barren, for long periods they are left to their inner voices and their subconscious. They have no religious teachers who tell them what to believe in, no traditions, festivities or rituals to support them as they walk through life in an Arctic climate, with its steady fluctuations in precipitation and temperature and where vegetation is sparse and plant based foods are extremely rare. Their basic view in their perception of life is uncomplicated - the human soul is an inner travel companion which they call “my friend" or Mistapeo, meaning Great Man. The Mistapeo lives in the hearts of the Naskapi people and is immortal - shortly before the moment of death, the Mistapeo leaves one physical body to be incarnated again in another.

Naskapi-Indians are dream watchers - dream interpretation and authentication enables them to get closer to their Mistapeo, their "active soul" that guides them through life. These dreams provide the Naskapi the ability to find the right path in life, both in their inner, spiritual world as well as in the harsh realities of a nomadic lifestyle in the Arctic north.

It is perhaps not surprising that in the consumer society which we inhabit, we at times find ourselves lost both in our inner world as well as in external society. It might be comforting perhaps to slow down for a moment and to make contact with our own internal "travel companions", who Im sure are still around and capable of guiding us through lifes long and difficult journey.

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Lasse Larsson

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Publicerad: 29 aug 2003 15:03


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