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Seeing Wetiko

with photographer Larry Pollock

”Wetiko” (aka “Wendigo" or “Windigo”) is an Algonquin word that describes a cannibalistic spirit or disease that consumes everything that keeps itself alive. Pash and photographer Larry Pollock were the recipients of a small grant given by The Rules, a social justice group, to create masks, photos and text for their Seeing Wetiko project. Below are the photos and first-person “voices” of various aspects of the Wetiko archetype from “Wetiko and Its Antidotes,” The project goal was to demonstrate how personal internal archetypes, from darkest to the lightest, collectively affect the planet. See photos and text of the project below. Some photos were also featured in Kosmos Journal.

WETIKO So, the climate is changing, but it’s always changing and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s changes don’t effect me much anyway. I don’t worry about pollution, poverty, or anything else like that either. It’s all happening somewhere else and it doesn’t affect me. Nor do I consider “cheap” or supposed slave labor an issue. Everything I buy makes jobs, so they should be happy I can afford their stuff. The most important issue is making enough money to get whatever I want. And I always want more of everything. My closets and cupboards are bulging over, but I can’t get enough of things like shoes, clothes, and of course, food. I generally eat until I’m stuffed. Steak is my favorite. I like it very rare. Raw even. Vegans are insufferable. They say that eating meat and dairy is bad for the environment, climate, personal health, and the animals. To hell with the planet. I deserve whatever I want whenever I want it.

FEAR I’m afraid of pain and death. I’m afraid of what will happen if all the bees die and our water gets dried up, used up, or is poisoned. I’m afraid of our radically changing climate, sea levels rising, countries drowning and the deluges of resulting refugees. I’m afraid of poverty and sickness because it makes people helpless and needy, and I’m afraid that I’ll be guilted into giving more than I can afford both mentally and physically. I recently encountered a bedraggled-looking barefooted man on the street who was walking funny and shouting that his feet hurt. I purposefully looked away and quickly walked past. I’m afraid of the homeless and the poor. I ignore them when I encounter them because they need money, food, shelter and care that I can’t spare. I’m afraid of becoming like them.

SHAME (or Guilt) I’m ashamed of my planetary ecological footprint. According to, if everyone lived like me, it would take 2.9 planets to support my way of life. I’ve almost used up this one.

I look both ways in the store in hopes that my vegan friends won’t see me taste-testing cheese and meat samples, which contribute hugely to the footprint. Even though I’m 90% vegan, I know that my vegan friends would be upset with me. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, planet desertification and habitat destruction. It also causes 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions, 20-33% of all worldwide water consumption, 45% of earth’s total land usage, and 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction. So, I’ve good reason to be ashamed.  

I also feel guilty about my contributions to the 35%, or 4 billion trees, that are cut down and used to make paper every year. I use a lot of paper products, from toilet paper and paper towels, to artists’ paper and shipping boxes. Now our forests are almost gone. 

I’m ashamed of my use of plastic too. Plastic is present in the water on 40% of the surface of the ocean and there is expected to be more plastic than fish by 2050. How many of my personally used items, from cups to bottle tops, are floating out there and killing more than a million sea birds and 100,00 marine mammals every year? 

And what about our gold jewelry? Open pit mining and cyanide leaching creates approximately 20 tons of toxic waste for every .333 ounce gold ring, which radically pollutes nearby communities and environment. My husband and I each have two gold rings. Each ring contains one or more probable-conflict diamonds for which violence and injustices, from rape to using child soldiers, abound.

The hidden impacts of my consumption goes on and on. How can I sleep at night? The best thing I could do for the planet would be to kill myself.

INERTIA The problems in the world, including everything going on with the environment, plants, animals, people, water, air, the climate etc. are so enormous that I’m totally overwhelmed. It’s all too complex and too difficult to do anything about. It’s too challenging to look at my contributions and to think about how I might alter my life to make a difference. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to change. It’s too hard. Change is impossible.

PLEASER It’s important not to rock the boat. I try to get along with everyone. If they like me, they’ll do stuff to help me. Especially men. Especially if I look good. So I keep my weight down, and try to dress with some sex appeal. I dye my hair and make sure my nails and toes look nice. I wear enough make-up to seem as “naturally” beautiful as possible. I often exercise for several hours a day. In the past, I lost weight so my boyfriend would like me. I was very thin, exhausted, hungry all the time, and my teeth started falling out from bad nutrition. I’m healthier now. Even though my body is now doing ugly things that I can’t control—like getting flappy and wrinkly skin, yuck!—, I still do my best to be attractive. If I could afford it, I’d get cosmetic surgery. But my husband doesn’t want me to and refuses to pay for it, so I won’t. I’m nice and try not to say “no.” If I don’t agree or find something disagreeable, I keep it to myself. A friend of mine told her husband she wanted to leave him, so he first shot her and then himself. An outspoken liberal artist friend disagreed with his roommate’s fundamentalist perspectives, so the roommate killed him. An activist friend was tortured in Columbia for his political views. Activist and environmentalist Berta Caceres was shot for speaking out against one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects. It’s best to be quiet and keep the peace. Survival depends on it.

DESIRE aka "Kink" Before I turned 12, I lost my cherry under my best friend’s guidance to her 21-year-old boyfriend. By 14, I’d had over 50 lovers, most of whom were a decade or more years older. The encounters were always consensual, even if I sometimes didn’t know how to say “no.”  The body doesn’t forget, and those experiences shaped my

fantasies as well as my tastes in porn. Now my brain is so full of pictures  that I don’t even need to peruse online because it’s all in my mind. It’s hard to warm up without the image bank, if you know what I mean. An old boyfriend and I had conflicts because I was literally open to trying whatever we watched together, which scared and intimidated him. Also, we weren’t fired up by the same things, so I felt shamed into hiding my bents. Did you know that apparently, a large part of the sex industry is fueled by forced labor? The thought of that reminds me of parts of what happened when I was a kid. If I turn the past into a fantasy, the twisted bits turns pleasureful. Some spiritual thinkers say that the world is a holographic manifestation of our inner lives and thoughts. With three-times more porn being produced than traditional movies, the supply and demand for our collective wet dreams seems insatiable. I’m curious what my turn-ons would look like without all the external influences. But it’s all just fun and kicks anyway. What’s in your head can’t hurt anyone, right?

SOLDIER  At 17, I moved in with a mean SOB, rage-aholic who criticized everything I did and said. We often fought about what was worse, his woman/porn watching, or my flirtations with other men. I was so young then, just trying to feel OK about myself, while the wanker never gave me a glance, which he said he did in part to defend himself against me. Whatever. Despite being a quiet, shy, and low key person, I discovered that the best way to shut the bastard up was to go crazy and scream, throw, and break things. At the merest hint of a shitty remark by him, if I totally lost it, he’d shut -the-hell up.  Preemptive-striking is a great trick. I listened to his nit-picky, maddening, sarcastic BS for so long, that I finally couldn’t take one more word of it. Now he says he has to walk on egg shells with me, never knowing when I might explode, which I think is hilarious and absurd since that was my experience of him forever. So, the tables have finally turned, and now he gets to know what I experienced for all those years of kowtowing to his tyrannical outbursts. It serves him right. Giving his own back to him makes me feel powerful. I finally learned to control his despicable behavior. I just have to stay on guard, ever ready to protect myself from sneak attacks. Unfortunately, I sometimes get sick from being on 24-7 alert, and it seems like nothing has really has changed. I don’t get it.

PRIVILEGE I am a very busy person. And although I feel badly about all the problems in the world, there is not much I can do about them. I am trying hard to keep my lifestyle together, work, keep healthy food on the table, stay relatively fit, keep up-to-date with finances, and plan for the future. I barely even get to spend a little quality time with my family and friends. So there really  is not time for much else—I can hardly keep the house clean! Plus, it is important not to get too bogged down with worrying about every little thing that’s happening out there. I can get depressed enough just getting on a scale! I like to try to keep a positive attitude and focus on the good. Maintaining a happy and peaceful frame of mind is very important in order for me to be my best. I mean, the world is so messed up, and I really need to take care of myself and not focus on all that bad stuff so I can attend to what I need to do.

WOE of the WORLD It’s heart-wrenching to tune in to the misery that so many people in the world live with on a daily basis. And the part I personally play is as bewildering as it is shameful. When I learned that there are children in China who, due to the volume of industrial air pollution, have never seen the stars, I felt deep regret because almost every non-food item I own is made in China. Yet, when I drive my gas car—instead of our electric one— or fly long distances, I don’t hesitate, although I know full well that it contributes to our heating climate problem, which negatively affects the 50 million+ climate change refugees globally, half of whom are children. Did you know that over 500,000 people died in the US-led invasion of Iraq, which was started to “protect” me and my kind and our lifestyles? Our munitions use left the country littered with large deposits of  depleted uranium, and dioxins, which have caused a massive rise in birth defects and other health and environmental problems that will have radioactive half-life ripples for billions of years. This seems unconscionable.  And it’s estimated that each American unknowingly has approximately 80 (plus or minus) forced laborers, aka slaves, working to create and manufacture the products they buy. According to, I personally have 66 slaves working for me. They make my clothes, grow my food, and assemble my products. They, and all the others who are suffering on the planet, are an intrinsic part of my daily life that I have absolutely no connection with. What makes my way of life so much more important than theirs?

ADDICT I try not to think about it, but pretty much everything I use or do in my day-to-day existence, contributes to hurting someone or something. The food I eat and the stuff I buy mostly gets shipped long distances, contributing to global warming and forest destruction due to the printing and packaging in which everything travels. The dyes in my clothes create water pollution, and much of what I wear is likely made with underpaid and overworked laborers. The devices I use every day, like my phone and computer, contain material that mining destroys land for, and laborers are likely exposed to dangerous chemicals and physical conditions during extraction for. I often think to myself, if I could stop using all this stuff and totally change my lifestyle, perhaps that would help save the world. But can I? Why don’t I? I am an addict.

GRIEF  When I was a child, we would hike in the Sierra’s and drink the water there, but it’s not safe to swallow spring water now. Indian tobacco, sticky lupin, and other flowers once covered the hills where I grew up. They’re gone now. The ancient oak trees in our old canyon are mostly dead and dying skeletons, and the sycamore trees look soon to follow. The lake up the road dried up. Far fewer birds chirp now outside the windows in the morning, and ravens no longer commonly dot the sky in groups. This year, for the first time, there were no baby quail scurrying through our yard, and barely any butterflies. There was hardly a winter or a spring either, and what little there was of the later came in February. Our seasonal life-giving desert monsoon is not expected to arrive this year. I’m heartbroken that so much has changed and been lost. I took too much for granted. I’m sorry for my part. I beg for forgiveness. Please, can we have it all back? 

MUTE  Words elude me. I find it easier just to use my body to communicate. When I feel affectionate, I wrap my arms, body, and heart around what I love. When I’m happy I smile. When sad, I cry. When I’m confused and bewildered, I stand as if frozen, churning up inside. When something is very wrong, I get sick. I don’t know how to express the dread and horror I feel witnessing the domino effects in the now-rapid destruction of our planet. Like the 1.3 billion animals that are slaughtered for human consumption every week, my voice feels strangulated, locked up, and hidden away. Like the vanishing lakes, reservoirs, water tables, my life-sustaining essence can too easily feel used up and disappeared. Nature expresses her discontent through heat rising, glaciers melting, oceans rising, and super storms. I must figure out how to emote mine as well. Will the silent ones be seen and heard to in time to save us all?

INSIGHT I see the world as a reflection of myself, a mirror of my inner life. Externally, Wetiko seems to be running rampant. What are my inner contributions? I examine the parts I play. I try to name and to understand them. I make masks to envision them and to give them a recognizable “face.” I want to comprehend what is happening and to be response-able. I don’t want to look away or to live my life unconsciously, metaphorically deaf, dumb, and blind. I ask questions. I want to know “why?” Often the answers are confronting because I don’t sometimes like how I feel. Carefulness and care is required when bringing light to the treasures that are hidden in the darkness of blind spots. Visionary author and activist Joanna Macy says that collective reflection and insight is our only chance for survival. Conscious awareness is the beginning of change.

COURAGE I am afraid. I tell my real story with a full, trembling, heart. I let go of who I think I should be to unmask who I am. I try to limit and let go of numbing activities. I mostly only drink small amounts of alcohol, socially now, rather than large amounts alone. Since I no longer get daily headaches from drinking, I’ve mostly stopped taking over-the-counter pain killers, which I swallowed daily for nearly two decades. Studies show that pain killers cause people to be less empathic with themselves and others. I don’t want to contribute any more to this social problem. I try not to self-harm. I try to face what I feel and accept it. I am not perfect. Nothing is certain. No outcome is guaranteed. And these things are OK. I can hold the tension of them. I take Fear by the hand and step forward anyway.

ARTIST  The problem with the world is that people are suffering from a profound lack of imagination. The fact is that anything can be made from anything—or from nothing! I try to bring the visions/feelings/emotions in my head to life. Take Wetiko for example. It is archetypal energy, which on the surface would seem not to exist because you can’t practically see it. It’s just an idea. But if I make a mask of it, give it a face, I can get it out of my brain. Then I can sort through its facets, put it into a proper framing and perspective, grock its insides, and figure out what parts are useful. That way it can’t wreak havoc from staying stuck inside my mind. If I give it a framework with a mask, suddenly the form takes shape, and BAM! You now have something concrete that you can start to look at and work with. The potential creative spirit is freed. When that power is unleashed,  anything can happen!

There are alternatives and solutions to our problems— they just have to be found. You mix and match seemingly disparate things. For example, add random items from a thriftshop. Take things that are recycled and reinvigorate them by adding them to a mask. They then get reinvented and repurposed to be put to new use. Or take something like the sun and wind, which is already here. If we harness and focus their power, viola! You’ve got solar energy and wind power. Something from seemingly nothing with far fewer negative repercussions than with nuclear power, coal, or gas, all of which create more problems than solutions in the long run. Creative minds need to come together on this stuff. Resolutions are just a thought, just a trial away. 

REBEL  As a teenager, I wanted to do something important and save the world, so I blockaded at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant and got arrested a couple of times. BTW, anyone who thinks building a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault line is a freakin’ idiot—hello Fukushima! Eventually, I got disillusioned with my anti-nuclear group because they started using tactics, like defacing billboards, which was the same violence as what we were fighting!

Now I’m riled up again from watching corporations take over and destroy the planet for their profit. The insane Citizen’s United law gives corps the rights of people, with none of the law-abiding regulations. So, Big Business privatizes water and steals it from drought stricken areas to sell across the country in plastic freakin’ bottles. They inject clean aquifers with toxic fracking chemicals, causing earthquakes, making people’s water catch fire, making people and animals sick, and then say they’re not responsible. They sell frack-polluted water back to drought-suffering farmers to put on food crops. Their oil spills pollute land and water and then they cover them with deadly chemicals that sinks their crap to the ocean floor. They say it’s all cleaned up, ignoring the ensuing mutations, sickness and death in the surrounding ecosystems and communities. They genetically engineer terminator seeds, which contain poison; don’t replicate; kill bugs, bees, butterflies, birds and soil microorganisms; and otherwise screw-up the guts and health of whoever and whatever eats them. Basically, they are bunch of psycho/sociopaths running the US and the world. They’re contaminating everything! They are currently causing the ongoing 6th mass extinction of plants and animals, and one out of three people to develop cancer. WTF?? We MUST quit using their products to stop them before everyone and everything is fucking dead.

LOVE  I love the smell of earth after a monsoon. I love the sound of bees in flowers while the quail cluck to their brood. I love the feel of gentle wind on my skin. I love clear mountain horizons. I love the smell of ocean and the sensation of feet sinking into wet sand. I love the taste of organic cherries and watermelon. I love the beauty and shade of trees. I love my family and friends and the idea of humanity. I don’t want to lose these things. IIf I could learn to love more and big enough, maybe I could love the world back to health. 

MYSTIC PILGRIM Awhile back, a friend gave me some medical marijuana candy to help a migraine. Having no previous experience with this form of medicine, I accidentally took too much. During the ensuing hours, I traversed universes. I experienced what it was like to die, which was as easy and non-eventful as taking off a sweater. I breezed through the outer hemispheric edges of the Akashic Records, where every thought, event, and emotion that has ever happened is recorded.

I delved into the surface layers of the mineral and plant kingdoms and literally felt how every place on earth and every living thing has its own objective vibration. I experienced how there are limitless realities present in any given moment, all of which are available to us if we only had the ability to tune into their varying frequencies. Since then, the inner journeys I’ve taken through meditation and personal spiritual studies have all mirrored what I learned in my accidental journey into the Great Beyond. It all points to everything being seamlessly interconnected and part of an incomprehensibly huge web— where all the good, bad, beautiful, ugly, and more that exists is precisely as it should be. It seems especially important to recognize that things that seems like they might be “bad,”— like the seeming malevolent spirit of Wetiko, or overdosing on medical marijuana!— can offer huge gifts of awakening that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen without it. They are the light of the shadow. 

COMPASSION I want to identify with, and metaphorically step into the shoes of, others who are suffering. I want to imagine what it might feel like to be them, and to be moved to want to help. I know this is the necessary antidote to combat Wetiko. Can I look enough, see enough, feel enough to turn compassion into empathic action that can make a difference? How do I come at last to truly live by the Golden Rule? According to Buddhist teachings, before compassion can be felt for the suffering of others, it must first be turned towards oneself. I want to learn to appreciate my own internal and external suffering with Wetiko quickly, so that I may step with that understanding and compassion into the world as soon as humanly possible. The planet and its environment, animals, and people are calling.

TRANSCENDENCE  When I was 28 years old, I asked my grandmother what advice she would give to her younger self if she could speak to her now. She said she’d tell her to appreciate everything as much as possible because everything changes. I don’t think that even she could have imagined that this advice would have applied in so few years to all our wild animals, livable weather, the ocean, glaciers, rivers and lakes, or breathable air. I try to notice all the nuances of these things now because they may not be here tomorrow. I also try not to worry to much about my own dilemmas, because they will pass, and I need to appreciate the beauty and joy of what is here, while it is. Whether we know it or not, there is a Big Picture, and we are all an integral part of it.