Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sundance in Canada





I heard my heart


A fierce wind was whipping the waters of Old Man River, near the northern Montana borders. It was late in June close to a full moon. The temperatures had fallen, forcing memories of chilly days in March to compete with expectations of the sacred Sundance ceremony, which was to last for the next four days.
We were waiting in a Blackfoot camp for some of the members of the Kainai band from Canada who had gone with the Sun Dance Leaders and six virginal girls to fell a tall cottonwood tree from a stand in the near by river bottom. Ancient ceremonies had to be observed to choose the center pole, a place that would connect the Sun Dancers to the Creator.
Night was approaching fast. Below the blood red rays of the setting sun, through the deep purple shadow of a high prairie bluff, descended a long row of twin headlights. The car’s engines whined in a high pitch, their low gears grinding in an attempt to pace the delivery of the cottonwood tree.
Drumbeats from around the flickering campfires became louder, echoing the eagerness of our hearts to participate in tomorrow’s ceremony. A woman, an Elder, started the traditional welcoming whooping cries. The members of the camp fell into a chorus in an immediate support of her salute. Prayers by the pole carriers rose through the storm clouds and silenced the furious weather front for the moment. Our world honored the beginning of a holy event.
The night arrived, pushing the last patches of color from the sky. Gentle orders by the Elders directed some of the participants to move the freshly felled cottonwood tree from the flatbed truck to a position in the center of the Sun Dance Lodge where it would remain for tomorrow’s celebration.
Silenced sounds and deepening darkness covered our part of the Rocky Mountains.
I was resting in a Sundance camp, where an anxious peace settled in my heart. Bright moving points of light on the firmament reminded me of a legend in which departed Elders walked on the Wolf Road (Milky Way), and tonight it seemed as if they were coming back. Their curious eyes strained in glittering efforts to see what help was needed, what deeds were requested for the renewal of the spirit. The Sun Dancers were begging them for their wisdom and their courage.
Torrents of wind and rain lashed out again during the night. Tipis and shelters, tossing like frightened horses in cracking corrals, were tied down by strong ropes and fallen tree limbs. The shivering canvas shapes seemed to refuse to shelter their fragile occupants. The people from the sky were coming home.
A glorious pink morning light surrounded the many winged brothers whose songs awakened the camp.
Movement came slowly to the meeting place. Children clamored for attention, grandmothers hushed them and guided the little ones to the center of the Sundance lodge.
Intoning their laments, members of the tribe, old and young, brought their colorful prayer cloth and tobacco ties to the cottonwood tree. Here, after long silent prayers to the Creator, asking Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Elders and relatives for help and counsel, a link was established.
Ih-tsee-pa-ta-pee-yoop heard their prayer. The Spirits and the community had come together.
Time stood still, being in the “present” made our radiance visible. A resonant drum helped the piercing voices of the singers as the Sun Dancers raised the Center pole, the top of which was covered in red, yellow, blue and white ribbons, symbols of the four directions from which Spirit Helpers would appear. Thousands of small red cloth pouches were tied with white cords to the Center Pole; they had been dedicated by individuals who had placed tobacco together with their prayers into the tiny bags.
The Sun Dancers left, one by one, to prepare for their sacrifice.
Helpers started the Sacred Fire for the Sweat Lodge near the Sun Dance grounds. They had selected a certain number of lava rocks from the outlying mountain range and set them on logs of cottonwood, according to faithfully transmitted traditions given for the ritual of the Sweat.
Legends tell that a grateful NATOS (The Sun) had given the gift of the Sweat Lodge and the ceremony of the Sun Dance to Scarface, a Blackfoot warrior. Scarface had saved the son of NATOS, A-PI-SU-AHTS (The Morning Star) from a flock of terrifying birds, a group of angry cranes.
NATOS took Scarface into the Sweat Lodge for four rounds and healed him from his facial distortions. Eventually, Scarface returned home from his long and adventurous journey to teach his people about the healing gifts from NATOS and to marry the woman who inspired his encounter with the spirits from above.
Now here on earth, in preparation for the Sun Dance, four rounds in the Sweat Lodge opened the hearts of the brave dancers, intentions were verified, thanks were given and prayers were directed to the Creator for the good of all the people. Intense heat from red hot stones and water, poured from the sacred Buffalo Horn, combined to let the Rock and Water Spirits cleanse the bodies and minds of the men and women who had chosen to give of themselves for the benefits of their relations.
Prayerful visitors from the surrounding villages gathered around the outer circle of the Sun Dance Lodge.
I stood,
a white face,
in a sacred place
listening to sacred songs,
knowing a sacred moment.
I stood,
a pale face with sweating palms.

The drumbeats became stronger, people started to dance, their feet hit the ground to the rhythm of the heart. As the Sun Dancers entered through the Lodge’s eastern gate, the songs of the drummers changed and the dancing steps of the people fell into time with the vigor of the entering band of male and female Sun dancers. The dancers directed their faces to the sun. Their Spirits felt proud. They were ready to conquer fear, ready to emerge anew, ready for the path of healing and spiritual leadership for which the Sundance provided the initiation.
Prayers guided the various dances and ritual movements. The large group of dancers were dressed in long red cloth skirts, and adorned with wreaths of sage around their heads, wrists and ankles. Completing the first circle in the sacred Medicine Lodge they moved around the arbor lodge, and stopped at each of the four gates, which opened to the four directions. They faced the four powers and called the kindred spirits of the universe with their eagle wing-bone whistles and their prayers.
The Sun Dance Leader was pierced first by an Elder in the two areas on each side of his upper chest, which he had dedicated as his sacrifice. His breath pushed through the hollow wing-bone whistle, calling for help.
I stood in awe as twenty-eight eagles appeared out of the clouds, they circled the Center Pole in a majestic formation and disappeared towards the still snow capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Everyone knew this was a sacred moment; many bowed their heads with respect to nature’s participation.
Long white cotton cords, attached to the piercing pegs in the Leader’s chest were fastened high up on the sacred tree.
A screeching sound from the eagle whistles stimulated uneasiness, my blood coursed wildly in my veins as I tried to hold on to my memories of what reality is supposed to be.
I prayed as the leader of the dancers took his power back and forth toward the Center Pole. Each time his steps became more purposeful. The wounds in his chest released small trickles of blood as his flesh pulled farther from the usual boundaries of his body. As the other dancers called upon the Creator, he asked for the strength to let go, to be free from fear of the pain inherent in the final part of the ceremony. This was the moment for which he had prepared himself. He wanted to sacrifice his flesh for the benefit of all. He was ready to continue on the road of spiritual growth.
An ancient and powerful Sun Dance Song signaled him to take a last ritual bow to the Center Pole where the Creator resided during the four days of ceremonies. Encouraged by the Eagle Spirit, the dancer threw himself backward, away from the Center Pole, so that his pierced flesh could break free. The chest thongs jumped from the dancer’s body like tortured snakes. They twisted brightly against the sun as they disappeared into the blinding light of a cloudless summer sky. Seconds later they descended to a lifeless rest along the colorfully adorned trunk of the Holy Tree.
The remaining dancers were reminded of their pledges to fulfill their sacred vows to the Creator and their communities. During the following four days they honored their traditions and took strength from the suffering of their leader and the prayers of their friends and families.
IH-TSEE-PA-TA-PEE-YOOP had granted their individual requests and had healed them or one of their relatives. They knew the Creators power.
For me, faith was the only connection to the creator. I was still standing outside the sacred circle wondering when my time would come.


I saw the Sun Dance
I trembled
I stomped my feet
I heard my heart
I bowed my head
Their sacrifice
My witness to their deed
Respectful distance
Awe
IH-TSEE-PA-TA-PEE-YOOP
I heard my heart
I had to change my life.

Friday, May 23, 2008

travelling exhibition, Soul Caller moves to Bolivia

September 2008, a month of adventure and opportunity to make new friends in Bolivia. For 6 weeks i will be travelling in the lands of the Chiquitanos and the Cruzenos.
Art and a spirit journey about which i will report in further posts.
A Dios.