Learning How To Handle our Human Divinity: Lessons from Nanabozhoo


We are challenged, we mere mortals, by the incredible power we have inside. Within each one of us lives the power to love, to think, to experience joy, to bear witness, to share, to tell stories, to touch, to heal, to change the world.

How do we handle this power?

Sometimes not very well. We hurt each other. We tell lies to protect ourselves from feeling shame. We sneak around or steal things or envy our friends whatever we imagine they have that we don’t. We are afraid. We make up things about other people. We make enemies. We go to war against them. Yes, we human beings can be tricky. We create all kinds of trouble.

How can we better understand and develop the gift of our own divinity?

Traditional stories from the world’s many spiritual traditions are one source of rich information about the complexity of our human/divine nature. For example, the Woodlands oral tradition contains many excellent instructions on how to handle both our humanity and our divinity. Many of these stories also illustrate what the pitfalls are to being such wondrous magical creatures who can also lose control of our own emotions and wreak havoc on everything and everyone around us.

I am a lineage carrier in the northern Woodlands story tradition. I carry certain stories that can never be written down. I tell them during specific ceremonies or times of year as I was taught. Doing this for over thirty years now, I have gained some insight into the wisdom medicine embedded in these stories.

One significant character is the trickster hero Nanabozhoo. He was born of an Anishinaabe woman. She was an upstanding member of her community. I imagine her as a loving mother devoted to her only son. Nanabozhoo’s father is a spirit-being, the West Wind. Sound familiar? Many important spiritual teachers share a similar creation/conception story, born from the body of a human woman impregnated by a spiritual entity, a non-embodied father. This is the marriage of form and formlessness. Consider the birth of Jesus.

However, there is a difference between Jesus and Nanabozhoo. Jesus becomes a spiritual teacher, whereas Nanabozhoo is more of a regular joe. When he shows up, he can help or hinder any situation.

Nanabozhoo may offer his sacred gifts to rescue the people from starvation or flood. Or he might exploit his divine abilities hoping to gain status among his fellow beings. His trickster sidekicks include Ajidomoo, the Squirrel, or Waaboos, the snowshoe hare. He expects his sidekicks to endorse his wild plans, and he poses for their applause when he assumes he has done something great. More often his self-serving action causes turmoil and destruction. When he uses his immense power to promote himself, trouble follows. When he acts out of jealousy, exhaustion, pettiness or arrogance, which he does, then even he suffers the consequences.

What does this tell us about who we really are, and what we can truly do? One message from this wisdom tradition is to beware of self-appointed saviors. They can cause more damage than good. Instead develop your own connection to Source (God, Goddess, Creator, Great Mystery, The All, The One, Infinite Presence, Eternal Flow). Learn to be in direct relationship with the sacred within and around you. Learn to trust yourself.

Through his exploits, Nanabozhoo teaches us right relationship to self and other, to Spirit and community. We are like him: half human and half divine, half soil and half wind, made of both breath and bone. Like him, we try to impress others. We do not always know how to quietly wield our tremendous capacity to love.

Perhaps if we begin to use everything that happens to us to become even more loving, we may advance our human divinity. Such is our challenge.

4 thoughts on “Learning How To Handle our Human Divinity: Lessons from Nanabozhoo

  1. When you asked sound familiar? My thoughts went in a different direction, thinking about how many boys today grow up in the shadow of a powerful but mostly absent father figure. It gave me new insight into both why Nanabozho sought respect so desperately that he was constantly boasting and seeking status among the people, and as to why we have a popular culture that is very boastful and status driven. It seems he wanted to feel powerful like his father but always felt less than, so he tried to make himself look powerful and important among the people. Poor Nanabozho! It seems he was doomed from the start. I will be seeing Nanabozhos all around me! But with more empathyand understanding than before. Which was your point, because Nanabozho is also within me when i am trying to impress, or trying to show that I am powerful. Great article!


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