Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Let It Fall Like Rain: Sweat Lodge Stories



Above the sweat lodge at Rosalini in Sicily : Below, some of the group attending the ceremony. A land of yellow light, white stone walls and a rich history.




Above, the Water Drum: Mitig-wa-kik Day-way'gun Below, the Big Crystal





The Big Shiny Rock In Sicily
A quartz crystal in
Iblea and Rosalini Sicilia, June 9 through June 17 (Sweat Lodge Story)


After nine months inside a box inside a bigger box, my many medicine objects arrived from a long slow journey from Taos to Pantelleria. We unloaded the box of boxes and left the next day for 10 days of ceremonies in Sicilia. One of these objects is the big crystal. On the 8th of august, 1988 at 8:08 am this big crystal was taken from the earth near Mount Ida Arkasas (USA). Now it is living on Pantelleria and has made a road trip to Ragusa Sicily.

We gathered in a small house near the center of the old city. The space is owned and made available by a yoga study group and sponsored by the owner of a local bookstore nearby. Libreria Iblea. Iblea is the old name for the city. With the meditation room darkened and candles put around the stone, its energy was really great. Crystals are interesting objects at any size. this one is rather spectacular at around 30 kilos. I do not feel the modern part of the city. I feel its old bones.

We had a most interesting conversation about time. We had the ancient slowness of the stone and the blinding pace of life in this city. We had the altar made from the slow objects and meditations of time and the blinding pace of life in this city.

The waterdrum : Mitig-wa-kik Day-way'gun
The most sacred sound which can be made with a drum comes from the drum that has water inside of it. This old drum was also liberated from the box filled with boxes and has come to Sicilia. It is the center of singing the heart, this drum. The old indians think it is about one of the most important sacred sounds there is. It is considered an important moment in the mystery life when he can hear this water drum. I have been singing with this drum for more than 30 years. I love singing with this one, it is my favorite for the songs I can find with it.


At the House of the Drummer

Later we are taken to an old old house near Modica, out in the country. It was an old Sicilian country house. Our host is a young man who tells me this was the house of his great great grandfather. Part of his work is teaching drumming to children.

Our next step is to find the materials we need to make one good sweat lodge. The feeling of this old place is very strong and relaxed. We need to organize in one week everything we need. The wood for the frame, firewood and covers for the lodge. material for tobacco ties. It is very nice to have a sweet place on the earth to make a ceremony. In the past there has been the problem of finding long straight saplings for the frame. It seems as if almost all of scily is cultivated. There appears to be no good commercial use for long saplings, so they can be hard to find. Last year we made a sweat lodge from crooked but long olive branches. The result was a crazy looking but strong sweat lodge. The elders like to see the best possible shape when you make a sweat lodge. The shape is very particular, being composed of 8 arcs, 5 circles and one hole in the earth, at the center.

In only a few hours we were able to gather what seem to be good sweat lodge poles. Near to a small river where the earth is usually a little wild. Later we met with one family who has a small farm nearby. They have a restuarant on the farm: we stopped by to make an appointment to eat from their garden, from their farm. It was a very charming experience. With typical Sicilian hospitality they pressed us to let them make diner for us right then..We were able to see the vegetable garden all around us as we talked, and it was spectacular.

Later on the evening we will eat pasta and drink some good wine. In America i never drink alcohol. Here in Italy it is not impossible, but is rather unthinkable to not drink the wine. Last evening we had a spectacular fish diner. It was about 16 plates of fish for 25 euro a person, including a good white wine. Good food with a good wine almost seems an obligation. Each dish was very different. It sounds like a lot of food, and it was, served in a family style in common plates where we then served each other.

The drummer has told me that he feels very distant from the religion of Sicily, the mechanized Catholic church. We talked about why we use religious references to talk about American Indian ceremonies. This is an interesting question. I believe these teachings belong to what we call the original instructions. It is possible to use the language of medicine, of science, psychology, music, dance, history, all of this in talking about the mystery life. Because we use spiritual language does not mean the Sacred Pipe is a religion in the way that Catholics or Buddhists have religions. The sacred pipe is not a religion. It is something much older than religion. It is something which can work with every person and so has no limits. The sacred pipe is a moment between the earth and you, between consciousness of the energy of all life and the revelation of your own vision for your life. It is a moment in time which reveals yourself directly to you.

These original instructions speak to an ancient place inside your brain, your consciousness, in unique ways. the sacred object was an instrument for making an ancient voyage of ancient people into a great mystery life of spiritual possibilities. We call it being carried by the great wind.

Later they go to bring in more sweat lodge poles, for the frame. I stay behind and start work on the fire pit for the stones The fire is like a drum, but in the opposite direction perhaps. It is an object belonging to the void. It becomes something that creates sounds in the opposite directions from where we usually perceive them. It is a voice of power, speaking to a place of power inside your life. Yes, it would be easy to talk about the drum and the fire using the same language.

Diner At the Little Farm They serve us a diner composed entirely of food, and wine, from this farm. We started off with a large assortment of antipasto of vegetables, sausage and some cheeses. This was followed with a soup made from linguine pasta and small meatballs, and a green salad. We then had a roasted chicken that was all dark meat, ending with a fresh fruit salad. It was the food pure to this region of Sicily and very well presented. I am often humbled by the presentation of food in Sicily. It is presented fresh, in abundance and varied in harmonious and always surprising ways.

This little business comes from a rather new development everyone around here calls agrotourisim. People come away from the city life and enjoy country food, this is a true Italian destination. I am humbled because this food is so excellent and fresh, so reasonably priced. Italian food is served with grace and style, like a good shared adventure. In America it seems very hard to find such food. I am often struck by how much better these Sicilians eat than do the people I know in America. I know I never ate so well as I have in this country. In America you can have a lot of money and perhaps eat very well. In Sicily you do not need much money at all to eat very well. For people who travel a lot doing ceremonies like this, looking forward to the good food is one of the adventurous aspects that I always enjoy. A traveling ceremonial man like me goes to a lot of feasts
and is introduced to everyone’s favorite food. Here in Italy, in particular, these people enjoy their food and have pride in the freshness and integrity of their food. From here it is easy to see that Italian cuisine may be one of the most influential in history, ever. Eating at this table, I understand why.

The next day a group of us cleaned the yard and prepared the fire pit for the sweat lodge stones. On this occasion we will have only the sweat lodge fire. I have chosen to forgo the tobacco fire so that this group can focus more on one thing at a time. Sometimes I may try to get to much done inside one ceremony. Being more simple seems the right move at this ceremony. These 5 days have gone by very quickly it seems. Later this afternoon we will know what kind of firewood that we have. Friday morning (tomorrow) we will make the sweat lodge frame.

Friday the frame has been made. Wild and crooked and delicate, like the wild and soft wood itself. This wild wood makes a wild frame, but so far so good with the work. These days leading into summer are like a dream. Life here has been quiet and slow. The island is calling us to come home, so Sunday at the close of the ceremony we will drive for six hours to Marsalla to claim a document I need for my official life, and try to take the boat on Monday at midnight back to Pantelleria. Tomorrow (saturday) a small group will arrive for the ceremonial time we will have together for this period in Sicily.

Sweat Lodge day. All that remains is to make the hole on the earth for the hot stones, the one in the center of the sweat lodge. It is from this hole in the belly of the earth that we emerge in this life. In the end it is to this prayer hole that we return. I will have the people make this prayer hole and tell them this story.

The big Crystal is in a small room we will use for the dreaming. It will become the little fire for our dream song which will go all through this night.

All together there are seven of us; 3 men and 4 women. We have made many kinds of light food and as is typical in Italy, we will share first the table of all this food. In America we generally eat nothing until after the sweat lodge has finihed. In Italy the center of almost every activity the people make together involves eating together.

The earth proved very hard for making one prayer hole, it took the entire group about two hours to make this hole for the stones. We have started the fire for the stones. The stones were easy to find as there are large white stones piled into walls all over this region. We need look around only for a few minutes to find every stone we could need. We talk about what people wear or do not wear in the sweat lodge. Many times people make some objection to coming into the sweat lodge with no clothes. I prefer people to be naked inside the sweat lodge. Having your naked butt on the earth is a very important part of the ceremony. I think if people don’t make the ceremony correctly, then nothing will happen. Just because a bunch of people gather together and have the sweat lodge and sacred objects does not mean anything will happen. The power of the ceremony is elusive and subtle. It can be like coming to see the doctor but not listening to the doctor. For me it is a problem when people resist the few simple instructions. In the past I have refused to let people inside the sweat lodge unless they were naked, indian or otherwise. Many indians don’t like to take off their clothes also. In recent years I have become more reflective and let people decide for themselves what to do. It is important to me that there are moments when you can trust the directions of a medicine person. I think also it is important that there be a place on this earth where people can be only in their skins together. In the end I make my best argument and let them decide for themselves.

Here I am in Sicily, using old olive wood and making an old indian ceremony. The poetry of of life is very good at this moment.

After:
The sweat lodge was very powerful, for everyone. Perhaps the best one in Sicilia so far. A strong place, a very good group of people, we all worked hard. Now the people have gone to the place of sleeping all together. From this place I will sing to them. It is well after 3 am right now. Water drum talking in the sacred night is what happens next. The group slept together very sweetly. I stopped singing just about first light. Later we have all gathered where we started, which is to say the table. We have eaten fresh and simple food, only a little wine and had no mobile phone signal.

Sunday night we are in a small seaside tourist village somewhere in Sicily between Agrigento and Marsalle. Two birds are singing to each other, each song is only one note. The song is rather high and seemed electronic at first, a kind of exotic “beep”.

I brought to the room from the cafe a bottle of wine from Corleone, a Grillo, quite dry and good. After another meal of seafood I reflect on the days of ceremonies we have made together here in Sicily.

One thing I have learned in Sicily is that how things appear to be at first are not how they are really. There is always some adjustment to be made upon each reflection. We all seemed equally blown away by the experience we shared and after these ceremonies I feel always a little empty and kind of spend the day in suspended animation. The farewells were emotional. For me they always take to long. In the old days I would just vanish after a ceremony. My position in this life is not typical and almost never easy. Sometimes I am so amazed by what happens when we take the people inside the old indian ceremony. Many beautiful and strong events have followed these ceremonies. What we all seem to gain from this experience has a great power; it is a great feeling and not at all easy to explain. We have talked about me returning for more ceremonies in October. That seems so far away. Tonight we sleep by the sea and listen to the beep birds as a sliver of a moon goes below the sky on a Sicilian night.

In these 10 days in Sicilia we opened up a crack between the worlds and stepped through into old indian time, old indian songs and potent silences- We learned something new and came away also with new feelings. Life inside the ancient old new sacred life was as fresh and beautiful as ever.

Go ahead and let it go
let it go
go ahead and let it go
let it fall like rain
like rain
let it all fall like rain


On this sweat lodge I sang for my life. I sang for the life of the people but I also sang to my roots for me, for my life. I want to keep going, keep building this understanding and this dialogue with the modern world. More than ever before I felt the ending of my own time on this earth and more than ever I believed in my songs power to bring healing and time to my poor old body. I sang for all I was worth. In the old language, if we translate the idea of going to a ceremony, it means “seeking life.”

Monday evening we are back in Trapani waiting for the slow boat back to Pantelleria island. We also managed to get the official documents which allow me to be here in Italy all sorted out. Except for official citizenship I am now a certified citizen of Pantelleria. We have taken a small sleeping room that also has a bath, which is a first for us ever on this old boat. The return trip leaves at midnight and arrives at 6 in the morning. Generally you take a room and go to sleep. Perfect result. Because we are residents of Pantelleria we have all this for 80 euro (car, room, etc), otherwise you pay up to 200 euro for the same privilege. This discount only works for the boat. The airlines offer no such courtesy for the island people. The cheaper boat ticket for residents was an action of the Italian legislature. It is a rather long journey but one that also has its rewards. It is a more normal life with the day to day people of this region and so is more intimate and also more safe. It is also nice to be able to make some travels without having to take off your shoes and walk through a line of machines and uniforms. The trip to Sicily to make these ceremonies for 23 people cost us 1,400 euro (about $1900 us). We received fees or payments from the people of 750 euro.

The sacred pipe was travelling with us. It was presented in the altar setting at the yoga center for the two short ceremonies we did indoors when we first arrived. At the end I touched each person’s heart with the bowl of this sacred object. This was the only behavior of the sacred pipe on this journey.

We broke the car driver side door, misplaced our auto documents and silvia left her panties at the ceremonial house. Italian women have very interesting panties. They take them very seriously.

I really like the character and society of my friends in Sicilia. our time was well spent in the 5th generation country house of the drummer. The rich black earth, the old olive wood, all the old handmade tools made me feel right at home. As a boy much of my time was spent in small country towns. The old farm houses of Sicily are a perfect match for the land and people that have made them. Country people are like indian people, at least some of them. The drummers parents have a modern life in an ancient city with a new house, swimming pool and so forth. It is nice that their son recognizes the character of this old farm and the value in restoring it. Italy in general has so many abandoned farms like this one. Many of these places have great character and rare, sometimes now forgotten, engineering and construction. A lot of the old stone houses of Sicily were made by initiated masons who understood stone buildings in ways that modern people have completely forgotten. “Together, the old indians would say, we go to an old place. I can put you halfway there. Whoever wants to follow must go there to. We are the ones dreaming up our lives. We are the ones who are here at this time.”

Sometimes the most powerful moment can come from a place and moment that is simple. Walking In Beauty. In a ceremonial period of time there is a big adjustment made in time and in awareness. The formal behavior of the ceremony is an instrument of change. It transcends the casual and often trivial emptiness of common social occasions and gives the time people spend together a magical dimension, a magical result.

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