Saturday, June 28, 2008
©2008 Turtle Heart. Art and Text.
Apparently the most famous story about tribal sacred teachings is the story of White Buffalo Calf Woman. In their stories about Sacred Pipe, the Lakota say a sacred woman appeared to two men. One of them was a fool who was killed, by the sacred woman, straight away, as seems just. The other was given a sacred pipe and told how and when to use it. The sacred woman then went away, turning into a white buffalo as she vanished.
In modern Lakota histry the sacred woman seems all but forgotten as the keepers of canupa talk over and over about a white buffalo. Canupa is an old word that means “wooden stick” more or less. It is now the preferred word when activists plains tribal members talk about sacred pipe.
Many modern people have transfered this story to bizzaro land. Here they view every sign that a white buffalo has been born somewhere as the second coming of…something vague. It is a statistical certainty that white buffalos will be born from time to time. Nevertheless, whole hordes of one can hope otherwise composed people declare these births quite sacred and prophecies of a great future which is described in glowing terms as….vague.
The story of White Buffalo Calf Woman is so well documented that one wonders where these interpretations come from and why. What is it about people that even as they seek to be educated they behave as if they know nothing at all.
This sacred pipe came to the Lakota about 450 years ago, by their own reckoning. In other tribes sacred pipe came thousands of years ago. The great woodland tribes of the central and eastern United States have known sacred pipe throughout their long history. Like the people who forget that the pipe was brought oto the Lakota by a sacred woman, most people forget and have failed to notice the long history of sacred pipes elsewhere in North America. They are to busy looking for white buffalos.
More people, particularly the Lakota Nation, need to be reminded of the role of sacred woman in the gift of sacred pipe. Indeed, before one Arvol Looking Horse somehow became Keeper of this sacred pipe, it was held by an old Lakota woman. No tribe disrespects women more than the Lakota tribal nation. None. Instead of looking for white buffalos, those people who believe in this sacred pipe should be looking for sacred Lakota women who have not been raped, beaten or abandoned and try and protect them from the grand council of old wooden sticks that dominate Lakota public politics.
A tribe can well be judged on the position and treatment of the women in its membership. Far to many tribes have dealt women out of the picture, out of the ceremonies and out of the official responsibilities of the tribe’s daily life. It is so common that we can really appreciate that handful of tribes who continue to honor and protect, and listen to their women.
Writers like to find some dramatic story and put this out as history. More often than not, something is lost in translation. Like American Indian people, Sacred Pipe suffers and is diminished by an ocean of bad information put out by self-appointed prophets and self-serving journalism, such as the celebrated work Black Elk Speaks. This book is the perfect example of a well-meaning but dangerously uninformed, famous writer finding, almost by chance, a great “prophet” on which he could build his certainly to be celebrated opus on the noble savage of his times. The author of Black Elk Speaks was an opportunist who knew almost nothing about American Indians. Black Elk himself was one Lakota man among many. He was not the first or last to have a vision. He was not the first or last to have knowledge of the ceremonial life. When he was alive, there were many tribal elders alive who knew more, and had more experience than Black Elk. Black Elk spent most of his adult life as an officer in the Catholic Church, to whom he swore an oath to never follow his own traditional religious ways. Later in life he performed “healing ceremonies” for the throngs of tourists who came to visit Mount Rushmore, then under construction. By a traditional measure, Black Elk was not the best choice one could have found in the tribes in those days. By a traditional measure, Black Elk was in fact not even remotely considered a holy man. By the hype and projections deduced from this book, one would think Black Elk was a great teacher and ceremonial leader and a lot like Jesus. The hype around the book transcends all of these issues, and as usual, makes what is really true more or less irrelevant. It has created multiple generations of white buffalo watchers who would not know a sacred woman if she blew smoke on them.
No matter how carefully the truth is spoken, it is the projections of the ego, of the need for miracles, that somehow flavor and dominate all of our public information on sacred matters, and in particular tribal sacred matters.
The Four Directions Unity Bundle, of which I am the Keeper, contains a group of very Sacred Pipes. These sacred objects, all of them, have been understood and addressed by sacred women of the four directions. Tribal sacred women have blessed them and agreed to them. Wherever this bundle travels in its World Journey, it encounters, embraces and celebrates the sacred women of all cultures and nations. Every ceremony of sacred pipe contains the wisdom and direction of those sacred women who have embraced this work, embraced my life’s journey.
In our historical Ahnishinabeg culture, it was the women who choose the men who would carry and keep the sacred of the people. It was the women who owned the land, the women who owned the water.
Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman did not give virgin birth to a Savior. What she did do was speak to simple men in desperate times and show them a way forward and give them the means to light their way. Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman was a Distant Dreamer, a Manitou, a Chindi following herself, not following some man. She has given birth to generation after generation of dreams and dreamers.In her memory, the blind look for white buffalos while those who are honest and who remember her best, look within…and remember.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
North American Indian: a type of human being found sitting nearly naked on the Belly of the Mother Earth, before a small fire, holding a rattle and an Eagle Feather, singing…until they were reduced to the size of a small pill and we were forced to swallow them.
I recently went through Pisa Italy during their one day a year street festival. Americans spell it differently. It is a beautiful, historic old Italian city…the one with the Leaning Tower.
I was presented with the strange sight of Inca Indians pretending to be North American Indians. Where they got the clown suits they were wearing is a mystery. They were wearing plastic and fake feathers. They had on the most insulting imitation Plains style crap I have ever seen.
Why? WTF? If they showed up on American tribal lands with such clothing there would be serious violence, perhaps even murder. Here, there was only a huge crowd of beer-drinking Italians. They seemed to like it.
A friend explained that Native Americans are very “in”, very popular right now in Italy. So, to make money these guys make music that pretends to be Native American. They have art posters, music CDs, T-Shirts, the whole package. All these things are designed to make them look not like Inca Indians, but Plains Indians. We saw two performing musical groups and dozens of tables with Incas selling the most horrible fake Indian crap I have yet seen. It seems like a weird new epidemic. Now Indians from one place are pretending to be Indians from another place. WTF?
After enjoying the huge crowd and a fantastic meal, we started our way back to the hotel. This time as we passed one of the performing Indian Clown groups….the crowd had thinned, things were getting more quiet. I had one of these guys pretty close to me, with his fake feathers tied to a plastic band around his pointed head. I grabbed one of the feathers and tugged on it, from behind. The fellow turned around and looked at me. I asked him what was up. I said to him “What are you doing here with this crap on your body?” I said several other tense things. Slowly, he seemed to understand me. Apparently he knows a little English and he told me he was “Inca”. When I asked him about what he was wearing he said it was his clothes. I pointed out that these were fake clothes from the fake Plains. At that point he asked me if I was an Indian. I told him that I was, yes, an Ojibway. He said “Fantastic!”. That seemed the limit of the English between us. He seemed pathetic and proud and stupid and lost and sweet…the little bastard.
I have no idea what to make of this. Is it harmful to parade and pretend before the uninformed masses? I would have to say yes. The whole business did not make me angry so much as it made me just sad.
This street festival is to honor the patron “Saint” of Pisa. Every city in Sicily has a patron saint. These patrons are the product of the Catholic Church and this “tradition” is apparently imposed upon every Italian village one day each year. I have no idea how these festivals looked in the older days. In these modern times, in Pisa, the streets fill up with vendors of color, from Hindus, Africans, and these “Indians”, and the whole affair becomes something from another dimension.
If you listened to their music it was very strange music. It was made up of largely Peruvian flute music, played in poor imitation of North American flute music, and singing that was trying very hard to be of the Plains style, but far wide of the mark. My friend said that Indians are popular and this was one way these “poor boys” had to make some money. I have been without money. Not once, but many times. In those times when I had no money it never came into my mind to pretend to be anything or anyone. How many Indians over time put on clown suits to dance for stupid tourists?
Remember Black Elk, the so-called Holy Man of the Lakota? He spent quite a few years dancing and performing for tourists at the construction of Mount Rushmore, one of the most hated places on earth for tribal people. Most people do not know that. Twice a day in the summer he would perform Indian Healing Ceremonies for the crowd. Sitting Bull did some performing as well, but he did not play anyone other than himself and did not perform tricks.
How many Indians have tricked themselves into becoming dancing clowns for white people so they could have some money in their pocket?
When I say the first group in Pisa, I wanted to get fruit and start throwing it at them, or maybe beer bottles. It was a real shock. There was quite a crowd of young Italian people all around them, really taking it in. Since most people know almost nothing about tribal people and culture, I guess whatever is presented will work.
While I, and people like me, do try and work as near to the truth as we can, it is really this kind of trash that gets the attention and is more common. I wonder if we are fighting a loosing battle? Personally, I believe the truth matters. I was wondering what my old teachers might have thought of this picture of plastic Indians. I could feel their tears and humiliation somewhere inside my own semi-composed sadness at having seen this situation.
May the Great Father Bless and Watch Over all His Children, the sorry bastards that they are. After so many years and years of Indian bodies being killed by the church and the white man’s governments, we Indians are now killing each other’s souls, for pocket change.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
©2008 Turtle Heart. Photo by Turtle Heart
A sweat lodge with friends. We have been making sweat lodge ceremonies here now for four years. I am not sure how many people we have made these ceremonies for here. It has been very satisfying to have this long standing sweat lodge camp in the north of Italy. Usually we have a mixture of men and women. Today we have for the first time only a group of men. Tonight we will also make a dream ceremony, which we have been doing here as well.
One of our participants has spent three months in Texas working at a sweat lodge camp run by a Lakota Indian woman. Quite interesting. He was gifted an eagle feather and a very fine peyote rattle during his visit. He has turned out to be an experienced firekeeper and keeps the standing stone fire going very well. It was nice to have some experienced and calm assistance.
The people eat and talk, which is the Italian custom. If they put tobacco into the fire for each story they tell at the diner table I would be more satisfied. When Italians are together they have their own sweet, but automated rhythms. It takes some effort to get them to pay close attention to subtle ideas like putting tobacco into the fire. The fire for the tobacco needs to be fed one hundred times for each person present. I will be lucky if they do it five times. This is a universal problem. Most people just do not have any experience thinking about the subtle opportunity a small sacred fire provides. One can learn many things by watching what people do not do. Watching people understand but fail to use this really fine tool is nevr satisfying to me.
Tonight the lodge was very strong and everyone could feel the power of the hot stones and the sacred water. After the lodge was finished the people lay down on the warm earth and no one moved or spoke for quite some time. I do not believe in tough guy sweat lodges...experiences where everyone is so tough that the hot stones and sacred water rolls right off of them. This sweat lodge put us all the way down on the earth and I am happy and grateful for this. When people are so tough and hard that the sweat lodge rolls right off of them I usually feel like I have failed. This time I had to come out of the lodge twice. The second time I laid down on the earth outside the lodge with the people inside and sang my pain and sorrows right into the earth between the fire and the door to the sweat lodge. I feel softer when the earth humbles me and lays me down. I feel it helps me remember my suffering and how far I have come, how far I have yet to go. I have no joy for a sweat lodge where only tough people who cannot be laid down are present.
We stay inside for about two hours. I always build my songs inside the lodge from those people who are present. I tell them this. I tell them that if they give nothing, they receive nothing. I tell them I will go to an old place and if they want to learn they have to go to this old place with me. It is not an easy thing for modern people to do. I think they try but the energy from this group of men is very mixed and the results are strange. My throat feels strained and I find it hard to sing. I wonder what they are thinking in there..
I am recovering from a long illness and discover that I am weak. The heat puts me down several times and the singing is hard to find. This is a symptom of seperation. When the union is strong the songs come more easily.
Two days later we have another sweat lodge. The people are quite different. Two women are present, both older women who are quite composed and alert. They came a long distance to try this experience. We also have a woman, our host, who is working the stones from outside. She is doing a very good job. The singing this time is really good. One of the women is very good at singing and the energy she adds helps the music flow like water. This sweat is in the end very different than any other I have done. I feel softer, less intellectual and more in touch with my feelings. Again we are inside about two hours. These stones we use get very hot, some of the hottest stones I have worked with. Different stones tell different stories in different ways.
When the door is opened I put my head outside and lay down on the ground looking at the sky. There is one tiny cloud hanging up in the sky right over the lodge. I see a single star. In the distance the thunder beings are making their own song and I try to bring this energy down iniside the lodge. Over and over we make the songs and everyone does a good job of getting some sound out. In the earlier sweat it was only me singing. This time everyone is making an effort and the sounds we make together becomes quite beautiful …..this builds up a lot of strong energy. I tell a long story about those teachers who come to us and who then go away. It is a song about giving up the fear. I look up a couple of times and everyone is on four legs with their heads down. Sacred animals seeking life.
Afterwards we have several hours of great conversation. I am asked about medical healing and so end up talking at some length about the nature of these ceremonies which in general I call correction ceremonies. I talk about the different levels of healing medicine, how there are many ways to come at the problem of healing. I talk to them about my approach and explain the reasons why I work as I do.
I was asked about healing practices of tribes. I found myself explaining that the work that I am doing with this World Journey is a kind of healing taken in another direction. We believe that these ceremonies are a “correction”, an adjustment to the thinking of the modern world as it comes to tribal people, to the earth itself. I explain that until we can effectively make these corrections, it is difficult for more specific healing procedures to be used. I explained that this work is similar to the work a healing doctor might exercise over a patient, but applied at a different level of the problem…farther out into society and closer to the earth.
I explained that many Native Americans associate illness with a message from earlier choices made in life, where something went wrong. Sometimes what went wrong may have been a choice, or it may have been a mistake. We need to understand what this mistake was and whose responsibility it is before we can make a correction ceremony. I explained in this way, as we look at modern society, we are applying this great correction ceremony to society in a collective way, carrying it all the way around the earth.
The question was interesting because it asked about healing teachings as if they were something different than the sweat lodge we had just shared together. I explained that they were the same thing in essence…or at least that the principles and results are similar when compared to the details of more personal therapies which her question implied. In my case, my patients are the citizens of the world. My studio is a portable operating room called the Four Directions Unity Bundle.2008
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