Every once in a while a book comes across my desk that is so bad the Review Circle has a bit of conversation about whether to even do a review. The Medicine Wheel: Maps of Transformation, Wholeness and Balance by Barry Goddard is the latest and needs to be in the 30-foot Pole category.
The term medicine wheel comes from Native American spirituality connected to their cosmologies, practices, and people (historical and contemporary). Goddard gives a nod to the "inspiration" of their cultures, but argues that, since the concept of "a Wheel is universal, [it] largely transcends specific cultures" he has the right to teach about the Medicine Wheel. My response would be that Native Americans don’t deserve to have elements of their culture white-washed so a white man can profit, yet again.
Moreover, there are major issues with where Goddard learned about the Medicine Wheel, because it wasn't from an actual Native American (which would, at the least, offer him a stain of legitimacy, the ability to say he was asked to pass the knowledge along). Instead he cites Leo Rutherford, a well-known British author (yet another white man). Rutherford, as Goddard tells us, learned about the Medicine Wheel from Hyemeyohsts Storm and his student Harley SwiftDeer who “were not always accepted as traditional.” No, no they are not, because Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan and Hyemeyohsts Storm (pseudonym for Charles Storm) were two of the most notorious of the white-guy “plastic shamans” to have arisen from the 1970s New Age subculture.*
Claiming one isn’t engaging in cultural misappropriation doesn’t make it so.
There are other problems with this book, namely that it rambles into odd tangents (why do I care about Jordan Peterson?) and does a weird inference about how Buddhism is ungrounded.
I am disappointed that the publisher supported it's publication. We do not need yet another white man making money off the spirituality of oppressed peoples.
Avoid this book.
Review by: Patricia Mullen
Author: Barry Goddard
Publisher: Moon Books, 2022
305 pp., $25.95
Note: An excellent summation of plastic shamans, with names can be found here.