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Please note: this is an unofficial webpage devoted to Angeles Arrien. The excerpt below is posted here to whet your appetite for Ms. Arrien's wonderful work, and perhaps entice you to explore her website or order her books online.

Four Ways to Wisdom


As Alvin Toffler points out in his visionary book "Future Shock", we must become more capable of handling change than ever before if we are to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century. Toffler observes, "We have the opportunity to introduce additional stability points and rituals into our society, such as new holidays, pageants, ceremonies, and games. Such mechanisms could not only provide a backdrop of continuity in everyday life but serve to integrate societies and cushion them somewhat against the fragmenting impact of super-industrialism."

Although Toffler writes about introducing new techniques to help us handle change, indigenous and Eastern cultures have long recognized that the only constant is change. Among tribal peoples, medicine men, chiefs, shamans, teachers or seers are called "change masters." The shamanic traditions practiced by agrarian and indigenous peoples remind us that, for centuries, human beings have used nature and ritual to buffer the effects of change and to support a life event, rather than denying or indulging in it. Although individuals in industrial cultures can help themselves embrace change through dreams, images, play, relationships and acts of creative work, we suffer from the lack of cultural support as we face the ever-increasing demands of change. In the introduction to Arnold Van Gennep's Rites of Passage, Salon Kimbala observes that "one dimension of mental illness may arise because an increasing number of individuals are forced to accomplish their traditions alone and with private symbols."

In cultures like ours where we are alienated from our mythological roots, renewal requires a return to the basic source where all personal and cultural myths are ultimately forged the human psyche. To guide our renewal we can look to cross-cultural research that reveals how shamanic traditions have consistently accessed four archetypal patterns to maintain connections to the mythic structures that support creative expression, health and adaptation to change. These four archetypal ways are The Way of the Warrior, The Way of the Healer, The Way of the Visionary and The Way of the Teacher. The four Ways reflect a pervasive belief that life will be simple if we practice four basic principles: Show up or choose to be present, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, tell the truth without blame or judgment, and be open, rather than attached to, the outcome.


The task of the warrior is to show up, to be visible and empower others through example and intention.

Through the archetype of the warrior an old-fashioned term for leader indigenous societies connect to the process of empowerment and to the human resource of power. Universally there are three kinds of power:power of presence, power to communicate, power of position. Shamanic societies recognize that a person who has all three powers embodies "big medicine."

Every human being carries the power of presence. Some individuals carry such presence that we are drawn to and captivated by these charismatic people even before they speak or we know anything about them.

A warrior or leader uses the power of communication to effectively align the content, timing and placement to deliver a message at the right time in the right place for the person involved to hear and receive it.

A warrior demonstrates the power of position by the willingness to take a stand. Many politicians have great presence and great communication, but lose power when they allow constituents to wonder where they stand on specific issues.

Examples of individuals who carry all three powers and who access the mythical structure and archetype of the Way of the Warrior are Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each has been committed to aligning the power of presence, communication and the willingness to take a stand in arenas that have heart and meaning for them.

Cross-culturally, the posture of standing meditation in one position with arms at sides and eyes open for at least fifteen minutes is used in the martial arts, spiritual practices and in the military as a way of reinforcing and coalescing the three universal powers and of connecting the practitioner with the greater being of who he or she is.

Most native peoples attribute the Way of the Warrior to the direction of the North, the home of Father Sky and of all the winged creatures. The belief is held that during challenging times, it is essential to face our challenges with the grace, power and dignity of the "winged ones." It is important to remember that when challenges present themselves, it is the warrior's way to embrace them with full-bodied presence rather than to constrict in fear.



The task of the healer is to pay attention to what has heart and meaning and to access the human resource of love. We express the Way of the Healer through attitudes and actions that maintain personal health and support the welfare of our environment.

The archetype of the healer is a universal mythic structure that all humans experience. Every culture has ways of maintaining health and well-being. Healers in most traditions recognize that the power of love is the most potent healing force available. Effective healers from any culture are those who extend the arms of love gratitude, acceptance, recognition, validation and acknowledgment.

Probably the most powerful contemporary example of someone who demonstrates the healing power of extending love is Mother Teresa. In shamanic traditions she would be called a medicine woman.

The posture of lying meditation is often used for healing work. In "journey work," which is lying down on one's back with closed eyes to the accompaniment of the drum, individuals in shamanic traditions access spiritual guidance and healing. When individuals do a journey, they open themselves to the possibility of removing the blocks and obstacles to receiving and giving love.

Most native peoples attribute the Way of the Healer to the direction of the South, with Mother Nature and all the four-legged creatures. Across cultures, there are four universal healing salves: singing, dancing, storytelling and silence. Native cultures transmit their values, ethics and spiritual beliefs through the oral traditions of stories, songs, dances and silent rituals and prayer. It has long been recognized that these healing salves reawaken and sustain the divine child within human beings and return to individuals the qualities of wonder, hope and awe. It is how we pay attention to our life story that allows us to experience the human resource of love, the most powerful healing force on Mother Earth.


The task of the visionary is to tell the truth without blame or judgment. Truthfulness, authenticity and integrity are essential keys to developing our vision and intuition. We express the Way of the Visionary through personal creativity, goals, plans, and our ability to bring our life dreams and visions into the world.

All cultures regard the importance of vision and its capacity to magnetize the creative spirit. Shamanic societies use Vision Quests, extended periods of solitude in nature, as a way of remembering their life dream and of accessing the four ways of seeing: intuition, perceptions, insight, and vision.

Many native American cultures hold a belief that each individual is "original medicine," nowhere duplicated on the planet and that therefore it is important to bring the creative spirit and life dream or purpose to Earth. Since we are "original medicine," these native people see that there is no need for comparison or competition. The work is to come forward fully with our gifts, talents and resources and to powerfully meet our tests and challenges. The Visionary is one who brings his or her voice into the world and who refuses to edit, rehearse, perform or hide all ways we can feed the false-self system of denial and indulgence.

Among most indigenous peoples, the direction of the East is associated with the home of the Great Spirit, the place of the rising sun and the place where we come home to our authentic self. Archetypically, the bell or conch shell serves as a sonic voice that calls people together and calls us as individuals to remember our authentic purpose.

The human resource of vision is the container that magnetizes the creative spirit to bring one's original medicine into the world. It is the Visionary within that inspires the voice to share what it sees. Rollo May states what shamanic traditions have practiced for centuries, "If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself."


The task of the teacher is to be open, rather than attached, to outcomes. Openness and non-attachment helps us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity.

Every culture has traditional and non-traditional means of education. Shamanic traditions believe that wisdom is flexible and fluid. The teacher's way is to be open to outcome and access wisdom by learning how to trust and be comfortable with states of not knowing. Trust is the container out of which the qualities of wisdom grow clarity, objectivity, discernment and detachment.

The opposite of trust is control. The trickster figure found in many shamanic traditions functions to present surprises and the unexpected as a way of waking people out of their routines and shocking them into seeing their attachments.

Among many shamanic traditions, the Way of the Teacher is associated with the direction of the West, the home of Grandmother Ocean and all the water creatures. The ocean is nature's mirror for indigenous cultures to learn how to be malleable and fluid.


Even though these four archetypes are emphasized in most shamanic traditions, it is important to understand the they are universal and easily accessed by all humans in a variety of different contexts, cultures, structures and practices. To maximize well-being and to be adaptable to change, indigenous peoples consider it important to be equally balanced in the areas of leading, healing, visioning, and teaching work.

If you numbered these archetypes from one to four, with one being the most developed in your nature and four being the least developed, what would you discover? Most cultures recognize optimum health as having a balance in the expression of all four of these ways. Independent of the culture we come from, we can follow the warrior's way to access power, the healer's way to access love, the visionary's way to access vision, and the teacher's way to access wisdom.

Through the resource of power we are able to choose to be present. Through the resource of love we are able to pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Through the resource of vision we are able to give voice to what we see. Through the resource of wisdom we are able to be open, not attached to, outcomes.

the above essay is Copyright 1995 by Angeles Arrien
Angeles Arrien, Ph.D. is a cultural anthropologist, educator, corporate consultant and author of
The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer
and Visionary and Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them.
She lectures internationally and conducts workshops that bridge cultural anthropology, psychology and comparative religions. Her work reveals how indigenous wisdoms are relevant in our families, professional lives and our relationship with Mother Earth.

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