Chief Seattle’s Letter

A quote by mythologist Joseph Campbell that attempts to articulate how "God" is present in all things.

A quote by mythologist Joseph Campbell that attempts to articulate how “God” is present in all things.

I’ve been re-reading “The Power of Myth” recently…an immersive transcript that details the discussions between author / journalist Bill Moyers and mythologist Joseph Campbell in the mid-1980s.  At the end of the first chapter, Moyers asks Campbell about the presence of “God” in all things as they dive deeper and deeper into a discussion of the true nature of consciousness.  Campbell begins to speak of a collective consciousness that we all share, and humanity’s unknowing presence and role as the “eye” of this consciousness.

Have you ever thought of all things around you as living, breathing, thinking, being?  Blades of grass, a tumbling sea, the leaved branches of an isolated oak tree in a never ending forest? Mixed with the buzzing of insects and the song of birds, the wind whistling across a landscape there is truly a feeling of being part of something greater – all alive and harmonious – of which we are both separate from and wholly completed by.

Campbell and Moyers refer to this “feeling of completeness” as The Gaia Principle – the thought that all of Earth is one giant organism, living, breathing, feeding off of itself, and all consciously being.

I thought of their discussion recently during a recent meditation by the shore — listening to a proud, grumbling sea, watching seagulls gallop through the foamy ebbing surf, and feeling the surrounding presence of ocean boulders much older and wiser than I’ll ever be.

As an example of our deep oneness with all around us, Campbell references a letter delivered by Chief Seattle to the US Government that requested to purchase his peoples’ land in the mid-1800s.  Re-reading this powerful letter brought immediate resonance to me, and I have been carrying it with me for several weeks now.

Below is the speech, as outlined by Campbell in “The Power of Myth…”


“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?


Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.


We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.


The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.


The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.


If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.


Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.


This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.


One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.


Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.


When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?


We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.


As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you. 

One thing we know — there is only one God.  No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

Over the years of writing on this blog, a common theme I’ve consistently come back to is the danger of seeing oneself as separate from others deemed different, from one’s own environment.  Separation is the truest sin, and in many spiritual thinkers (including Campbell) sits at the root of violence, hate, and conflict.

Even though it is difficult, it is a greater reward to choose to see all that is around us as a mirror – reflecting ourselves back at us, part of us, for better or worse.

Make the choice to shed seeing what makes you different or isolated from what’s around you and instead choose connection, acceptance, and empathy.  Joseph Campbell dedicated his life to bringing a vibrant collection of myths and stories to a wide audience to show us how much more we all have in common, as opposed to what makes us disperate strangers.

He brought Chief Seattle’s letter to my consciousness – and for that, I’m grateful.


~ by Dan Fabrizio on August 27, 2014.

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