Showing posts with label Native Americans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Native Americans. Show all posts

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Greta Thunberg at Standing Rock

On October 9 Greta Thunberg spoke at the Indigenized Climate Forum in Fort Yates, North Dakota. As you likely know, Thunberg comes from Sweden, where, at 15, she began protesting a lack of climate action in Parliament. From there, she quickly rose to worldwide prominence, organizing school climate strikes, giving a TED Talk, and appearing on the cover of Time magazine. In September Thunberg received an invitation to speak at a UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Since then she has made it a point to travel throughout North America to spread her message.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, opened the event with a prayer.

"The old ones tell us through our ceremonies and everyday life we walk with the spirits, and everything has a spirit, we do our ceremonies everyday year round and that's our way of life -- so our prayers and our sacred language is all about the environment," Looking Horse said.

"I am so honored and grateful to be here to visit you in your homelands, to visit Standing Rock, this symbolic place of resistance," Thunberg said. "There was one moment that changed everything. It was a slow process. I started to educate myself about the climate and ecological climate. I just started to understand the urgency. When I understood that, I became furious because I realized that countless people are already suffering and have been for a very long time. These people are being ignored. This is going to affect every one of us in the future, myself included. It is already affecting us in many different ways. I just thought the only right thing to do was to stand back against this and to take a stand and I never regretted doing it."

"It's been very educational I must say, because you get so much experience from meeting all of these different cultures. The basic problem is the same everywhere. It is greed, ignorance, and unawareness -- and basically, nothing is being done to protect our common future. Nothing is being done to save the planet. We as teenagers shouldn't be the ones taking the responsibility, it should be those who are in power... and also it is because you here at Standing Rock, you are on the front line. You are the true warriors. You are the ones standing up for everyone else's future and I have so much respect for you and I am so grateful that you have taken this fight. Just so you know, we look up to you a lot."

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Five Native American Artists You Should Know

Just as music plays a vital role in Native American culture, art has a very special place as well. Native American art has developed over centuries, tracing back to cave paintings, stonework and earthenware. Art has been used as a form of expression in the Native American way of life for thousands of years. Most art was created as a symbol, such as a bird, animal or people. Many art objects are basically intended to perform a service -- for example, to act as a container or to provide a means of worship. The materials to make this artwork varied from clay, stone, feathers and fabric. Typically linked to a deep connection with spirituality and Mother Earth, Native American art comes in many different styles and forms to reflect the unique cultures of diverse tribes -- including beadwork, jewelry, weaving, basketry, pottery, carvings, drums, flutes, pipes, dolls and more. Here are five contemporary Native American artists you should know:

1. Wendy Red Star: Of Apsáalooke (Crow) affiliation, Portland-based artist Red Star (born 1981) works in a variety of media. Her art often includes clichéd representations of Native Americans, colonialism, the environment, and her own family. Her humorous approach and use of Native American images from traditional media draw the viewer into her work, while also confronting romanticized representations. She juxtaposes popular depictions of Native Americans with authentic cultural and gender identities. Her work has been described as "funny, brash, and surreal." Red Star produced artwork for the 2019 Art+Feminism Call to Action Art Commission (shown above). "Ashkaamne (matrilineal inheritance)" depicts in black and white the artist and her daughter, Beatrice Red Star Fletcher, reclining in matching striped shirts and blankets, with the words, "Apsáalooke feminist," repeated in the background. Apsáalooke inheritance is based on matrilineal descent, tracing affiliation along the mother-to-daughter line. This image represents a lineage, female empowerment, and the next generation.

2. Frank Buffalo Hyde: Born in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1974, Hyde was raised on his mother's Onondaga reservation and studied at the Santa Fe Art Institute and Institute of American Indian Arts. He belongs to the Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan, and Nez Perce tribe. Before becoming a visual artist, he played in a rock band and dabbled in writing. Hyde juxtaposes 21st century pop culture images with symbols and themes from his Native American heritage. His vibrant, satirical, graphic paintings seek to dismantle stereotypes of Native American culture and replicate what he refers to as "the collective unconsciousness of the 21st century."

3. Makita Wilbur: Wilbur (born 1984), a visual storyteller from the Swinomish and Tulalip peoples of coastal Washington, for the past five years has been traveling and photographing Indian Country in pursuit of one goal: To Change the Way We See Native America. Wilbur began her career in fashion and commercial work in Los Angeles after completing the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography. Though in high demand professionally, Wilbur realized that she wanted a different path as a photographer: to create portrait art that deeply communicated people's lives and experiences.

4. Teri Greeves: Greeves (born 1970), who grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, is known primarily for her use of traditional Kiowa beading, which she learned from her Kiowa grandmother. Greeves merges her cultural history with both traditional and contemporary clothing items as a commentary on being a Native woman in the modern world. She blends traditional geometric traditional Kiowa styles with figurative elements of the Shoshone, while also commenting on the derivation of American modernist abstraction from traditional Native American designs.

5. Harvey Pratt: Considered one of the leading forensic artists in the United States, Pratt (born 1941) has spent over 50 years in law enforcement, completing thousands of witness description drawings and hundreds of soft tissue reconstructions. Pratt is a Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal member and is recognized as an accomplished master Native American Indian artist. He is a self taught, multi-talented artist involved in many media; oil, acrylic, watercolor, metal, clay and wood. He has won numerous awards and was named the Red Earth 2005 Honored One. Just recently, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian announced that Pratt's Warriors' Circle of Honor was the winning design for the National Native American Veterans Memorial.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Indigenous Youth Excluded from UN Climate Summit

On September 21 the United Nations held its first-ever Youth Climate Summit, but Indigenous youth were excluded from the sessions. They were given their own event, which was poorly attended. Makasa Looking Horse was invited to open the youth summit with a blessing. The 25-year-old leader is Lakota and Mohawk from Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. She is the daughter of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th generation keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe.

"I did not come here to play, or this isn't for show," she said, holding the pipe ahead of her prayer.

Looking Horse told youth delegates that the White Buffalo Calf Woman "declared we treat all of creation with respect to honor our mother," adding "she warned my people of the time we are in today, and that she would return to help us as a white buffalo calf."

She said that prophesy has begun. "I will honor her today for asking, honor her today for her blessing to guide us, the seventh generation."

Beyond the blessing, the Indigenous youth felt excluded from the summit and left feeling dejected, they said.

"They need to provide space and get Indigenous people there in those spaces to truly make a difference, I think, because we already have the knowledge, we already know what we're doing. We know what we want," Looking Horse told APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) News.

"There was a disconnect," she said, adding the global youth and Indigenous youth were "both talking about the same thing, and we're in two different rooms. And I think that speaks volumes about how this topic is treated regarding Indigenous people."

Looking Horse said she valued the time she was given to open the youth summit with a blessing, but said knowledge like the teachings of the White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe will not be heard if Indigenous peoples aren't meaningfully included in plans for climate action.

"The message that the White Buffalo Calf Woman gave us was to always work in unity and keep praying together with our bundles, our pipes, because that's the only way that we will get through the tough times that are coming," she said.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

American Indian Perspectivism

Now that the age during which all human civilization developed is ending, it might be time to pay more attention to the experience of those whose world has already ended: indigenous peoples. Depending on how you count them, there may be up to three hundred million indigenous people still on the planet. Most are survivors of colonialism. The genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas was the beginning of the modern world for Europeans, but the former remain as veritable end of the world experts. Models for restoring our relationship with the Earth exist in the cultures of indigenous peoples, whose values and skills have enabled them to survive centuries of invasion and exploitation.

Establishing a relation to indigenous thought and practice is no simple task. Not only do we have different views, understandings, perceptions and cultures that see the world in different ways, we inhabit very different worlds. American Indian conceptions are grounded in perspectivism, a concept originally coined by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Perspectivism, according to Viveiros de Castro, is the philosophical view that there are many different world views depending on an individual's particular perspective. Put another way, every entity views every entity and event from an orientation peculiar to itself. Perspectivism holds that only one spirit exists in everything. It implies that everything is alive, sentient and shares a common spiritual essence.

Perspectivism assumes multinaturalism, which is the polar opposite of our multiculturalism. In multiculturalism, there is only one nature, but there can be many cultures, and it sets about studying, documenting and classifying them. By contrast, in multinaturalism, there is only one culture (spirit/soul) and multiple natures. From an American Indian point of view, there is no singular nature as such because perception is dependent on perspectives (humans perceive nature differently than animals, and animals perceive nature differently than spirits, and so on), yet none of these natures is absolute and they are all just as valid.

Another way to view the difference is to put it like this: Westerners see themselves physically as animals and spiritually different; American Indians see themselves spiritually as animals and physically different. American Indians inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours where nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own. Every entity is conceived as having a soul -- intentionality and conscious perception -- like a human being.  Moreover, all beings perceive themselves as humans and other beings as animals. While viewed by humans as animals, animals and other beings regard themselves (their own species) as human and live in conditions similar to humans; that is, they have a social and cultural life similar to those who inhabit an American Indian village.

Jaguars, for example, are thought to see themselves as humans, to see humans as human prey like deer, and their own food as that of humans. Establishing an authentic relationship with other beings therefore requires adopting their perspectives, as shamans do when they shapeshift into animals. Shamans will shapeshift into an animal so as to see the world through their eyes and to feel what they feel. Shamanism is a practice of defying the limits of human perspective, crossing borders into the social worlds of other species, administering relations between natures. Essentially, the shaman is a diplomat who creates a dialogue with other beings. As Viveiros de Castro puts it, "By seeing nonhuman beings as they see themselves (again as humans), shamans become capable of playing the role of active interlocutors in the trans-specific dialogue and, even more importantly, of returning from their travels to recount them; something the 'laity' can only do with difficulty." (1)

Shapeshifting is more than just transforming into an animal as is often depicted in shamanic accounts and tales. It is the art of shifting our old, entrenched thought patterns and perspectives in order to transform ourselves, both as individuals and communities. The purpose of shapeshifting is to develop new thought and behavior patterns in order to change the world. With all that is happening in the world today, it is good for us to get out of our own comfort zones in order to broaden our perspectives, to learn from and about others, to interact with the world differently, to see it with new eyes. By changing the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us, we shapeshift our reality.

1. Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Cannibal Metaphysics (Univocal Publishing, 2014) p. 60.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Sacred Power of Nature

"In the absence of the sacred, nothing is sacred. Everything is for sale."
--Oren R. Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Onondaga Turtle Clan

One of the most important teachings from indigenous people who are still rooted in shamanic and earth-based traditions is that being embedded in nature means being close to creation, the creator and the divine -- that the sacred is directly experienced through creation and can be understood through observation and communication with the spirit(s) of nature. While we modern people have been led to believe that the divine is somewhere 'out there', indigenous shamanic people remind us that the sacred and divine is 'right here.' We are a part of nature; not separate from it or 'above' it.

Shamans have always immersed themselves in nature because they knew that the only way to recharge was to connect with nature's healing energy. The longer the immersion; the more transformational the experience. What better way to reenergize than to sit in a deep forest, or next to a waterfall for a few days and nights? Shamans knew that some of that natural power could be gathered and stored using shamanic techniques and then applied later to their active endeavors. There is no reason why an ordinary person cannot learn and apply similar techniques to recharge, gather, store, and apply the renewed vitality gained from time in nature.

Shamanism is a way of living in harmony with nature, rather than an adherence to a religious doctrine. By practicing these ways of being, we awaken our soul calling and our connection to nature. The spirits of nature are here to teach us to be better humans. They come to assist us in doing the principal unique thing we have come here to do in a way that benefits all living things. The shamanic way is good medicine for a world that needs to experience the divine in nature in order to become whole.

Shamanism is ultimately about consciousness, about learning through attunement to nature. It provides a myriad of responses to the spiritual quest of self-discovery. It is a path that emphasizes establishing a personal relationship with the powers of creation. It is a way that embeds us in the living web of life, yielding greater awareness and perspective. Shamanic practices are easily integrated into contemporary life and provide a means of navigating the turbulent times in which we live. To learn more, look inside my book The Great Shift: And How To Navigate It.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Battling the Black Snake

The coming of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines have fulfilled the Lakota prophecy of a terrible black snake meant to bring harm to the people of Turtle Island. Native organizers stand on the front lines every day to protect the sacred systems of Unci Maka, our Grandmother Earth. Mni Wiconi -- water is life!

Your voice is needed. For though the resistance at Standing Rock has been forcibly paused and oil now flows through the Dakota Access pipeline, the struggle to protect the health and safety of the tribe and people downstream isn't over. Quickly and quietly, Energy Transfer Partners is planning to more than double the amount of oil DAPL carries, to more than a million barrels a day. And they're doing this -- once more -- without the consent of the people.
Big Oil assures us that increasing oil flow through pipelines isn't dangerous, but U.S. regulators say their information doesn't back that claim. And tar sands crude -- the type of oil DAPL carries -- is a special threat: corrosive to infrastructure, it caused a million-gallon spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan not long ago. The United States suffers hundreds of liquid pipeline incidents every year. Why should we trust Big Oil's word?
Between now and the deadline for input on Aug. 9, we will do everything we can to ensure a public hearing -- the first step in stopping DAPL from becoming twice as dangerous. The Black Snake's presence must not be allowed to fester and grow without pushback from every corner of Turtle Island. Will you stand with us once again to ensure the safety of our people and our sacred land and water? You can use our form to send an email telling North Dakota’s Public Service Commission that the people must be heard!

Wopila Tanka -- Thank you for making a difference! Mni Wiconi.

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People's Law Project

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Victory for Pine Ridge!

Mission accomplished! After more than 1,200 of you sent emails in a single day, the White House declared a public assistance disaster for the Oglala Sioux Tribe -- a major victory for Pine Ridge, where 97 percent of the people live below the poverty line. This incredible news means that the Oglala will receive more than $10 million in support to rebuild public infrastructure like roads, water systems, and public housing. While it's an extremely satisfying conclusion to months of hard work, we must not rest on our laurels. Lakota People's Law Project's flood relief efforts have been costly but well worth the investment. Your generosity now can provide for the crucial battles ahead. Please give today -- and consider making a monthly contribution -- as we gear up to defeat the Keystone XL pipeline and assist Pine Ridge's full recovery.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Shaman's Journey Song

Journey Song

I go in my canoe
all over
in my vision.
Over trees
or in water
I'm floating.
All around
I float
among whirlpools.
All around
I float
among shadows.
I go in my canoe
all over
in my vision.
Over trees
or in water
I'm floating.
Whose canoe
is this
I stand in?
The one
I stand in
with a stranger.
I go in my canoe
all over
in my vision.
Over trees
or in water
I'm floating.

--Northwest Coast Tsimshian (1)

1. David Cloutier, Spirit, Spirit: Shaman Songs, Incantations (Providence: Copper Beech Press, 1973), pp. 67-68.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

New Arrival of Sacred White Bison Calf

A white bison calf was born last week at the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation in Manitoba, Canada, bringing the number of the extremely rare animals in the herd to five. Herd caretaker Tony Tacan says the white buffalo mother has had five calves in total -- one brown and four white -- even though all the fathers were brown. Just how unusual that really is depends on the source of information, but all agree it's a rare and deeply spiritual event for this community and beyond.

"The first calf she produced was brown and the ones after that were all white," says Tacan. "Nobody ever expects this to happen. There's a reason this is happening, and all we can do is share it with our First Nations brothers and sisters so they have a place to come and pray for people who would otherwise feel hopeless."

The Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people see the birth of a white bison calf as a sign that the prophecy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is now coming true. According to Lakota legend, the first sacred pipe was brought to Earth 19 generations ago by a divine messenger known as White Buffalo Calf Woman (known in the Lakota language as Pte-san Win-yan). The pipe was given to the people who would not forget -- the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations. The Buffalo Calf Woman came to the tribes when there was a great famine and instructed them about living in balance with nature. She gifted the people with a sacred bundle containing the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, which still exists to this day and is kept by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

Over a period of four days, White Buffalo Calf Woman instructed the people in the Seven Sacred Rites: the seven traditional rituals that use the sacred pipe. When the teaching of the sacred rites was complete, she told the people that she must return to the spirit world. She asked them to honor the teachings of the pipe and to keep it in a sacred manner. Before leaving, the woman told them that within her were four ages, and that she would look upon the people in each age, returning at the end of the fourth age to restore harmony and balance to a troubled world. She said she would send a sign that her return was near in the form of an unusual buffalo, which would be born white.

Since then, the vast herds of bison that once migrated across the North American plains have dwindled, hunted into near extinction by nineteenth-century non-indigenous hunters. With their numbers reduced at one time to a mere 500 animals, and the chances of a white calf being born estimated at one in ten million, the fulfillment of the prophecy of White Buffalo Calf Woman seemed improbable. However, a white buffalo calf was born in 1994, and since then at least four to six of these sacred buffalo calves have been born every year. Even more significant was the virgin birth of a white buffalo calf at the Woodland Zoo in Farmington, Pennsylvania in 2006. It would be hard to believe, but Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, has confirmed that a female buffalo gave birth in captivity without artificial insemination or a male buffalo present. Chief Looking Horse believes that these are all signs that the prophecy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman is now coming true.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Oglala President Calls for Federal Disaster Relief

Over the past month, two massive Winter Storms brought flooding and chaos to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Flooding from the first storm alone displaced 1,500 tribal citizens from their homes and damaged nearly 100 structures. Many still remain without access to potable water and many roads are still impassable. Top priorities to care for displaced families and elders are bottled water and storage containers, nonperishable food, diapers, toilet paper, and hygiene products. They also need things as simple as generators, fuel containers, water pumps, shovels, and other tools. Pine Ridge now faces millions of dollars of damage. Recovery will take a long time. Join Oglala Sioux Tribal President Julian Bear Runner in calling for a federal declaration of disaster in South Dakota. Please send an email to President Trump today! To join the call for a federal declaration of disaster in South Dakota please visit the OGLALA OYANKE RELIEF website.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Traditional Halibut Hook Revival

Indigenous peoples of the northwest coast of North America have been catching halibut on what are known as "wood hooks" for centuries, but very few fishermen use them today. Over time, wood hooks were replaced with off-the-shelf fishing tackle. As the hooks came out of the water, they found new homes on land as art pieces and collectors' items. In fact, many carvers started crafting hooks specifically to hang on the wall rather than above the seafloor. But now, Native carvers are trying to revive the ancient tradition by teaching people how to make and use the hooks for what they were intended, and helping them reconnect with their culture in the process. The wood hook is a rare example of an object that ties together the different domains that collectively form Alaska Native identity: mythology, art, carving, and the subsistence lifestyle. The carved imagery frequently features the shaman and animals associated with power and mythology, such as the raven, octopus, and even halibut. The shaman, who seamlessly traverses the natural and supernatural worlds, is believed to help fishermen make similarly smooth transitions from land to sea. Read more.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Native American Voter Suppression

Standing Rock is now known worldwide for the protests over the Dakota Access pipeline, which were ongoing in the period leading up to the 2016 elections. But the advocates and celebrities who flooded into the region have nearly all left. And Standing Rock's own energy and activism hasn't translated to the ballot box, for reasons both ancient and recent. This week the United States Supreme Court chose not to overturn a new North Dakota voter ID requirement that could effectively disenfranchise thousands of Native voters for the upcoming election on Nov. 6. It's pure institutionalized racism, and it threatens the future of North Dakota and our nation. Mobilization is now more important than ever. In North Dakota, every vote really does count. Because of their relatively small population, it's possible for statewide election results to change based on a couple hundred votes -- and as of now, the court's ruling means thousands of Native voices could be eliminated from the rolls on election day. Read more.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Spiritual Significance of the Number 4

The number 4 has long been considered a sacred number in shamanism and Native American spirituality. All events and actions are based on this number, because everything was created in fours. The Great Mystery reveals itself as the powers of the four directions and these four powers provide the organizing principle for everything that exists in the world. There are four winds, four seasons, four elements, four phases of the moon, four stages to humanity’s spiritual evolution, and so on.

For instance, the Native American sweat lodge ceremony (Inipi) is usually carried out in four rounds. The whole process is modeled after the Medicine Wheel, which is a universal symbol that can be found in many indigenous cultures around the world. The Medicine Wheel represents the natural cycles of life and the basic way in which the natural world moves and evolves. The Medicine Wheel represents the archetypal journey each of us takes in life. This journey has four stages or rounds, each associated with a cardinal direction. Four rounds signify completion, wholeness or fullness.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Northwest Coast Indians Box Drums

Shaman's Cedar Box Drum
Wooden box drums are a customary element to the music of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Box drums accompany singing during funerals and at the memorial potlatch ceremonies that come later. The box drum is either played upright or tilted back and is used to begin and to mark certain points within a song. Like many of the musical instruments used on the Northwest Coast, box drums can be associated with shamanic practice. Some indigenous people of the Northwest Coast utilize the drum to indicate the presence of spirits. For example, a tremolo created by rapidly striking the drum can be perceived as an audible manifestation of a spirit being's presence.

The carved cedar drum in the photo is a very old box drum belonging to the Mount Fairweather (Snail) house of the T'akdeintaan clan in Hoonah, Alaska. It commemorates the time that a T'akdeintaan shaman proved his spiritual power as a shaman. A physical representation of the shaman's spirit guide is carved into the drum as an effigy used to invoke the spirit's power. The top figure carved on the front of the drum is a bear. It's most likely the same drum depicted in geographer Aurel Krause's 1882 book, called "The Tlingit Indians" in English, and could have been carved decades before that.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Standing Rock Defense Fund

Photo by Lucas Zhao
The Lakota People's Law Project is asking for donations to fund the upcoming legal battles to protect Standing Rock activists, Chase Iron Eyes and HolyElk Lafferty. The necessity defenses of Chase and HolyElk could set a precedent to protect not only land and water, but freedom of speech itself. These trials can help create a permanent legal framework to protect indigenous, environmental, and civil rights. If you choose not to give monetarily, they ask your thoughts and prayers for these two brave warriors. All the medicine you can provide is much appreciated as the team gathers evidence and prepares for the fight. These trials may prove to be two of the most important of our generation. Heal. Unify. Resist.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Dignity of Earth and Sky

She casts her peaceful gaze across the waters of the Missouri River. During the day, the South Dakota wind brushes the diamonds in her star quilt, causing blue shades to twinkle in the sunlight. At night, she stands illuminated and strong. She is Dignity. Dignity (a.k.a. Dignity of Earth & Sky) is a sculpture on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River near Chamberlain, South Dakota. The 50-foot high stainless steel statue, by South Dakota artist laureate Dale Lamphere, depicts an Indigenous woman in Plains-style dress. She holds outstretched a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes designed to flutter in the wind. According to Lamphere, "Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota cultures in South Dakota. My intent is to have the sculpture stand as an enduring symbol of our shared belief that all here are sacred, and in a sacred place. My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Medicine Wheel of Life

Bighorn Medicine Wheel
The Medicine Wheel, sometimes known as the Sacred Hoop, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes to represent all knowledge of the universe. Within the cosmology of primal peoples, the Medicine Wheel represents the circle of life. All aspects of life, energy, and the ever-moving universe spiral in circles. The plants, the animals, the minerals, and the elemental forces of nature all exist within the circle.

The Medicine Wheel provides a means of entering sacred space--that place where you can find yourself over and over again. The Medicine Wheel of Life is a mandala, a symbolic blueprint or map of reality. It represents a multidimensional, interwoven web of relationships that are in constant communion with each other. The sacred wheel exists simultaneously in a horizontal and vertical axis, as well as in the unfolding continuum of time--past, present, and future.

The Medicine Wheel of Life serves as a portal to consciously enter the cyclic, time-space unfolding of Tao or Great Mystery through a practice of reverent, harmonious relationship. It is based on the belief that the universe is alive, sentient, and constantly communicating its wisdom to who ever makes an effort to listen.

To move around the wheel and develop a relationship with each direction is to step onto a path of learning and fulfillment. Each direction has qualities and attributes that help us spiral toward completion on the wheel of life. All creatures walk the circumference of the Medicine Wheel, experiencing birth, life, and death. After completing a cycle of learning on the sacred wheel, each of us returns to the source, the Great Mystery at the center or heart of the circle.

The Medicine Wheel of Life is symbolized by a circle that is bisected first with a line of light from East to West. From the East the sun arises and the guardian Eagle takes flight. Though the qualities attributed to each of the four cardinal directions tend to vary from culture to culture, the energy of the East is typically associated with the vernal equinox, Eagle, Hummingbird, morning, birth, beginnings, the rising sun, illumination, inspiration, ascending consciousness, and the element of Air.

From the South rises the vital energy of renewal, regeneration, and growth. From the South we learn to plant seeds of good cause. We learn that our thoughts and actions create our reality. South is related to the summer solstice, Serpent, Coyote, midday, youth, trust, growth, and the element of Fire.

From the West flows the energy of transformation. In the West we assimilate our life experiences. Experience is the only baggage we carry with us from this Earth walk. From the West we exit the realm of physical experience and join into vast levels of experience in the spirit worlds of light, or we choose to return and walk again the sacred wheel of life. West is connected to the autumnal equinox, Bear, twilight, introspection, emotions, flow, the moon, death, endings, transformation, and the element of Water.

From the North flows the energy that completes the quartering of the circle. From the North we receive wisdom and clarity of mind. North is linked to the winter solstice, Buffalo, night, wisdom, clarity, patience, renewal, blessings, abundance, and the element of Earth.

Quartering the circle defines all that is the Great Mystery. We are here on earth to experience and realize the mystery. The vision of that mystery is ever present within each of us. When we still the incessant chatter of the mind, we begin to realize the Sacred Vision. We begin to recognize certain qualities from the four directions that help us evolve on the wheel of life.

Father Sky and Mother Earth together generate the powers of creation. The four directions are the power and life-giving forces of the created. When we begin in the East and turn clockwise, acknowledging the four directions, we align ourselves with the powers that shape our reality. We are also creating a circle--a boundary that separates the sacred from the ordinary and profane. Such a ritual creates a sacred space that can be slipped in and out of at will. By creating a circle, we are also structuring an energy pattern that will contain, focus, and amplify the power generated by ritual. A circle will shape the elemental forces into a powerful current that will spiral upward and downward, uniting heaven and earth. Thus, we synchronize our environment and ourselves to the circle of all that exists.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Way of the Sacred Clown

Clown Kachina
Sacred clowns are found in ancient cultures throughout the world and represent a reversal of the normal order. The most famous of these are the Koyemsi (or Mudheads), the dancing clowns of the Zuni Indians. In the Zuni tradition, the clown frequently disrupts and lampoons some of the most sacred and fundamental rituals. The Cherokee had sacred clowns known as Boogers who performed "Booger dances" around a community fire. But perhaps the most unique type of sacred clown is the Lakota equivalent of Heyoka, a contrarian, jester, and satirist, who speaks, moves and reacts in an opposite fashion to the people around them.

The sacred clown uses satire, folly, and misadventure to portray lessons on inappropriate behavior. The clown satirizes tribal life by acting out and exaggerating improper behavior. The sacred clown's obscene and sacrilegious actions infuse the most important religious ceremonies. Unbound by societal constraints, they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. Their function can help defuse community tensions by providing their own comical interpretation of the tribe's popular culture, by reinforcing taboos, and by passing on traditions.

Principally, the clown functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, and forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, and beliefs. The main function of a sacred clown is to awaken people to innovative and better ways of doing things. The mischievous clown behaves in ways that are contrary to conventional norms in order to violate peoples' expectations. In such paradoxical states, people can assimilate new information quickly, without filtering. Sacred clown's lesson is to stop acting out of habit. We must be willing to plow old habits into the soil in order to cultivate new patterns that enhance our natural growth. Innovative change will revitalize our life and precipitate renewed growth and creativity.

Sometimes we unwittingly cut off the voice of our inner truth, or sense of what is correct; relying instead on old, soul-killing patterns of judgment, control, and distrust. Inner truth reflects, like a mirror, the higher, universal truth that exists in every situation. Yet even when our point of view is at its most positional, narrow and self-righteous, higher truth, often in the guise of the contrarian clown, is there to open the way back to balance and wholeness.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Native American Flute

Next to the drum, the most important Native American instrument is the flute. The instrument evolved from traditional uses in courtship, treatment of the sick, ceremony, signaling, legends, and as work songs. During the late 1960s, the United States saw a roots revival of the flute, with a new wave of flutists and artisans. Today, Native American style flutes are being played and recognized by many different peoples and cultures around the world.

According to Ute-Tiwa shaman Joseph Rael, "The flute is an instrument connecting the two worlds, the non-physical with the physical. The breath of the flutist is the breath of God coming through a hollow reed; the sound is that of the invisible lover courting the visible lover, the metaphor of the lover and the beloved."

The flute opens a path of communication between the spiritual and earthly realms. The flute is related to the soul, which extends far beyond the physical body, connecting us to the symphony of the universe. Something transcendent happens when you begin to play a flute. You journey deep inside yourself and bring out the cosmic music of your soul. Nothing matters--audience, place, time--you just get lost in the music. You become the music--notes, rhythm, and melody.

The flute is akin to the breath, which is spirit. Its sound is like the wind, which is dispersive, changeable and unpredictable, yet it has the capacity to permeate anything. The flute is also akin to the birds and flight. Its chirp, warble, and bird-like notes make your heart soar. The flute is like the air; you cannot hold it or contain it, and yet you can never separate yourself from it. "Everything needs the air and so the flute represents the voice of the soul and the voice of the wind, and the voice of the birds--those things that are free, free to --move. So taken all together this trio, the flute, drum and rattle, represents the whole voice of Creation."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Zuni Shalako Drum

Shalako Kachina
I purchased this beautiful Zuni log drum depicting the Shalako ceremony from the artist in December of 1991. Elisia and I were traveling through New Mexico on a cross-country tour, promoting my newly released book, The Shamanic Drum. By chance we happened upon the annual Shalako festival, which is a series of dances and ceremonies conducted by the Zuni people near the winter solstice in which they celebrate the return of the sun and pray for rain, growth, and fertility. Shalako is named for its masked dancers who embody kachinas or ancestral spirits. Kachinas mediate between humanity and the gods of rain and prosperity in a sacred ritual performance that ensures the transformation of winter's death into spring's rebirth. Standing ten-feet tall and resembling birds, the colorful Shalako kachinas dance rhythmically, clacking their long beaks together. They come to the human realm to collect the people's prayers and take them back to the spirit realm.