Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Superstition Ride - - -Day 3 (sweat lodge)

When I get to the rest of the group I see that Ingrid is presiding over a fire built over a good number of stones. Since we're so close to the water I can only hope that there aren't any explosions in the lodge. That sucks. But, Silas has this thing where he says he chooses the stones that speak their desire to him. OK. I just hope none of the desires involved a sense of humor or a wish to burn people with flying chunks.

Silas is dressed traditionally too. He is also wearing an exquisite turquoise pendant. Not the treated and formed from jeweler's dust crap they sell at the roadside stands, but big, gorgeous chunks of rock twisted into a rope the thickness of a baby's arm, and a healthy baby at that. He is seated near the fire and the cooking stones and has his pipe bag and accessories out in front of him. He points to the ground in front of him and I go and sit. Silas takes an old chipped pottery bowl that is filled with a smudge mixture. He takes small coal from the fire and drops it into the bowl. He fans this with an golden eagle feather until the smoke is billowing. Up the left side, circle the head, down the right side, up the center, washing the smoke over himself with the feather. He passes the bowl to me and I do the same. I look over at our German friends and then give an inquiring look at Silas. He smiles and nods. I walk in front of them, one by one, and repeat the smudge procedure. I tell them that the mixture we are using is sage, lavender, and cedar. Hans asks me why we do it and I say for the same reason Catholics burn incense. He asks about the eagle feather and I tell him that to us the golden eagle represents truth. That for us, truth is a living thing. I also say that the feathers themselves have no power, they are used as visible reminders of things. I also tell him that he has a pretty good sunburn on his head and neck and that if he becomes uncomfortable in the heat of the lodge to not be ashamed to leave. It is not supposed to be a place of suffering. He relaxes with that. As I finish with each of them I touch the feather to both shoulders and the top of their head saying "Yexahidela go deya jooni tc'indii" (having been prepared you walk in beauty)

Silas has been filling his pipe while I do this. When I return and sit, giving him back the smudge bowl and the eagle feather he takes another small coal from the fire and lights his pipe. He offers smoke to the four directions of the compass, to the as above and so below. He speaks his medicine name biyi'siziini oyih (soul flyer), sásh (bear clan), doolé (butterfly soldier), itisgo (honored in council). He sees the Germans about to explode with questions and says kindly "We will be doing many things in Apache, not to be rude, but because that is who we are and how we do things. When we go into the lodge I hope you will feel comfortable enough to pray to your own gods, in your own words. If you have questions when we are finished we will answer them gladly. Only the questions that matter will last that long. The ones that don't stay with you really don't matter. We are only introducing ourselves at this point. When there is something you must know we will be sure to speak to you so that you may understand." Ingrid looks about ready to say something but Silas silences her with a smile and a gesture. He then passes the pipe to me and I take a smoke, washing the fragrant wild tobacco and mint smoke over my face and head. I introduce myself in the same way Silas did, (I am going to dispense with the Apache words right now, it is a very tedious thing to type in HTML on a Windows keyboard) Singing Snake, flute clan, raven soldier, battle honors, snake dancer. Silas motions for me to pass the pipe to Schatzie, I show her how we do this, using two hands, looking into each other's eyes, just before I let go of the pipe I wink at her and whisper "Don't inhale just give it a light puff." She does. She gives her first and last names and the city in Germany she is from (Hamburg), she runs out of things to say so I hold out my hands for the pipe and she gives it back to me. I take the pipe to each of them, one at a time. When I get to Hans he seems worried, so I sit in front of him and give him a questioning look. He says "I promised my grandmother I would never smoke." I tell him that is a good promise and that we value things like that. Especially promises to grandmothers. I also tell him that personal autonomy and individual freedom are precious to us, and he has no reason to fear giving offense. I ask him if he would like to hold the pipe, and not smoke it. He does. I go back to sit in front of Silas and pass his pipe back to him.

In English Silas says "We were planning this ceremony before you came to us. Our intention and purpose has not changed with your presence. We will do this in four rounds. We will do a traditional round of prayer and then Snake and I will go into our original purpose. If you feel the need to leave the lodge, please direct any requests to me. It works better that way because I'm much nicer than he is. In the first round I will say a traditional prayer to call upon the spirits, then we will pray for ourselves. In the second round we will pray for others. In the third round we will give away something of us that is beautiful and useful to our people. In the fourth round we will dream."

He nods to me and I get up and begin to take off my clothes. I tell the Germans that they are welcome to enter wearing as few or as many clothes as they wish. The speed with which they get naked leads me to believe that they have made some trips to the south of Spain or the Greek Islands. I put a stack of folded blankets outside the entrance of the lodge for when we are finished. Ingrid has chosen to stay outside by the fire so as not to put any strain on her feet. Right before Silas smudges me again and touches me with the eagle feather on the back of my neck I turn to Hans who is right behind me and say "I'm going to say 'All my relations enter with me' in Apache, you may say something close to that in German or English whichever is most comfortable to you." He nods and I go into the lodge.

I crawl clockwise to the northeastern position in the lodge. There will be plenty of room with only five of us in here. In the middle is a nice indentation that Hans and the girls scooped out of the clay while Schatzie and I were out gathering plants. Silas smudges each of the Germans into the lodge and goes to the fire. He has a big, charred shallow wooden bowl that he fills with four big rocks. One at a time he passes them to me through the entrance of the lodge. With each rock I take an elk horn and use the tines to bring the rock over to the indentation. I sprinkle each rock with dried lavender and welcome it into our ceremony. Once the initial four have been brought in Silas brings the bowl with four or five rocks at a time until we have twenty total in the lodge with us. I can see that the Germans are starting to wonder what is next. Before I can say anything Silas comes into the lodge and pulls the blanket over the entrance down behind him.

It is totally dark except for the glow of the rocks. Silas takes a horn ladle and pours the first dipping of water over the rocks. The steam billows and churns. A couple of the Germans cough and wheeze a bit but, they are toughing it out. Silas says his opening prayer in Apache and then prays for himself. In English he says "I am finished speaking." He turns to Eva and says "Please say your prayer for yourself." Eva prays a short German prayer. Then Schatzie has her turn. She spends a much longer time at her prayer. When it is Han's turn he tries to pray in English and gets a little tied up and is embarrased. I tell him that it is alright and to please feel free to pray in any way that he is comfortable with. He just says that he is finished. When I have finished my prayer, Silas begins to ask me questions. They are very pointed questions about what is going on with my life. At every question he puts a dipper of water onto the still very hot rocks and the steam churns up, scalding and feeling like it is alive. I answer each question simply and directly, almost without thinking. Then, almost without warning, Silas announces that the round is over. He raises the blanket and tells everyone that they may go outside the lodge and drink. We all go outside. The Germans are guzzling water greedily while Silas and I are pulling new stones from the fire and into the carrier. We add ten stones. When we are ready to go back into the lodge Schatzie is the only other one who wishes to continue. Hans touches his sunburned head sheepishly and I tell him that I am impressed that he endured this much. I suggest that they all drink plenty of water and eat something if they can.

We bring the fresh stones in and Silas smudges us into the lodge. The initial prayers go swiftly. The heat and the steam are even more active this round. The stones from the first round are still pretty active, adding the others has really upped the action. A lot of the time in a sweat lodge it isn't the heat by itself that will set the environment, it is the activity of the steam. This steam is almost like cartoon steam. Sometimes it is like a line of dancers, other times it feels almost caressing, then, without warning it will surge past you in a billow that lays into you like a lash. Silas again starts with the questions. Probing and incisive questions about the people in my life. He probes about my mother's health and finances, he digs about my sisters and their children, he goes through my children and the people I work for and with. He goes through a lot of very specific questions about my service in Viet Nam. Again, the answers come instantly and easily, although I can feel fatigue beginning to climb up my spine. As suddenly as he did before Silas announces that the round is complete. He motions for Schatzie and I to stay in the lodge and he disappears out of the opening. Just before he leaves he says to me "Sing Coyote's Hunting Song." I sing.

Silas comes back with ten more stones. He has me scoop out some of the old stones before he put the new ones in. They are shimmering and glowing a bright orange. The blanket comes down and we are in a different level of light. The stones are giving off enough light that it is like looking through an orange night-vision scope. Then Silas pours water and the steam jumps again, and again. Silas sits motionless and silent for what seems like forever (probably less than ten seconds in outside the lodge time) and he says "Tell us the story of Tsebitzidah Ma'atose. (18 Coyotes)




Anonymous amish451 said...

MB...thank you for bringing me to this place, and your sharing....coyote always has a good story JB

5:12 AM  
Blogger Sherry said...

it shines.

6:08 AM  
Anonymous Constant Comment said...

Thanks--and I look forward to future installments.


7:05 AM  
Blogger Brave Sir Robin said...

I feel like I was there.

And I wish I was.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous horsedooty said...

I love this story.

thanks MB

yo soy Horsedooty!

9:04 AM  
Anonymous derwen said...

Just discovered your blog and stories, which are absolutely riveting. What a wondrous person you must be! Thank you for sharing this.

10:12 AM  

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