It was Spring 1990, and we were all so appreciative of the land provided for our sweat lodge (truly a purification ceremony), and all that was happening there! We had sweats, and then Gary and Elizabeth would return for him to be a guide for a few vision quests. John and I both felt blessed to be able to learn from Gary and help support others. We learned more with each quest as Gary was an excellent teacher. We would all be having fun and sit down around the fire to visit. Suddenly, Gary would start sharing with us. He would draw on the ground to demonstrate what he was saying. Many of us paid attention to what he was doing. Others seemed to lose out on this gift. When doing this, he created a space for answers to come to each of us that sat and listened.
The sweat lodge was made with twelve willows. It represented the universe. The fire represented the great power of Wakan Tanka, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life as it was the eternal fire. Rocks represent Mother Earth, and when the first seven are brought into the lodge with each sweat, the creation story is shown. The round dug out area in the center of the sweat lodge represents the center of the universe, and here dwells Wakan Tanka in the center of all. A mound is built between the lodge and the fire as dirt is taken from Mother Earth and placed above the earth. It represents the sacred path of life as the feminine is placed outside the lodge. Everything above the earth is masculine. We are all both masculine and feminine. Everything is.
When a sweat began, Gary sat by the door and touched each stone with his pipe as it entered. While doing this and pouring water, he took on a different demeanor. Wisdom poured out of him, and he seemed wise beyond words.
As the flap that makes the lodge door is closed, we all sit in complete darkness. The water that the person by the door pours on the hot rocks brings forth the sweat. I always found this interesting and good because I do not sweat when hiking or working in the yard all day. I never sweat. However, I sweat in a sweat lodge. These purification ceremonies seemed to purify us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Every sweat was a different experience. More people learned about this lodge and started coming. Many returned, bringing their families and children to join us. I grew interested in watching the teenagers that repeatedly returned to purify. I saw changes in them and wished I could get all struggling teenagers to join us in this lodge.
I slowly began to understand more about this path, the Sun Dance, and how it all fits together. The dance is the offering of body and souls to Wakan Tanka, who is at the center of all things. Gary taught us that “Wakan Tanka is “Great Spirit (God).” He continued saying, “The Sun Dance is a very sacred ceremony. At the same time of the year, many will pray to Great Spirit in this way. For the dance, a circle is to be cut out of rawhide and painted red to represent Mother Earth, for she is sacred. Upon her, we place our feet, and from her, we pray. Another circle is to be cut from the rawhide and painted blue for the Heavens. Then from that same rawhide, cut the form of a buffalo. He represents people and the universe.”
He continued, “At the dance, there will be a huge tipi with sacred sage all around. Each male dancer will have an Eagle Bone whistle. At the end of each whistle, an eagle plume will be tied. When the whistle is blown, remember the voice of Spotted Eagle, who represents Wakan-Tanka. A crescent moon is to be cut from rawhide for the sweat, as well as a five-pointed star that represents the sacred Morning Star. A rawhide circle should also be made and painted red again, but at the center should be a blue light circle representing Wakan Tanka. The light of the sun lights up the universe and reminds you that you are bringing light into the world.”
He then shared, “When you are dancing, one makes spirals into the center and then spirals out. Whenever one returns to the center, they are returning to Wakan Tanka, who is the Center of Everything. A dancer may be told to sleep in the evening on a bed of sage against the center pole. That dancer is to get up in the night and go again to four quarters, returning to the center each time. All the while, he is to send his voice in prayer. Always be up with the morning star and walk towards the East, pointing your pipe stem toward the morning star and ask for wisdom.”
Thus, we learned that the Sun Dance is “Looking At The Sun” and is one of the greatest rites. It is held at the Moon of the Fattening (June) and the Cherries Blackening Moon (July). This dance is a way of prayer. Dancers pray from sunup to sundown. A dancer has to be careful lest a distracting thought comes to him. Yet he must be alert to recognize any messenger the Great Spirit may send to him, for these often come in the form of an animal, even one as small and insignificant as an ant. All creatures are important, for, in their own way, they are wise and can teach us much! Most important of all are the winged ones because they are nearest to the Heavens and are not bound to the earth.
Everything has a spirit or influence which can be given to us if we are attentive. Walking slowly, the dancer goes to the West, offers a prayer, and then returns to the center. He then goes to North, East, and South, always returning to the center. After completing this, he raises his pipe to the Heavens, asking the winged ones and all things to help him. He then points the pipe stem to the earth and asks aid from all that grows upon our Mother. All-day long, the dancer does this over and over, constantly praying out loud of silently to himself or herself.
Gary shared that whites will be tested, especially white girls. We were going to be attending his family’s Sun Dance. The U.S. Government terminated the Sun Dance in 1904. Native Americans were not allowed to have this ceremony for seventy-four years. They were only able to begin having the Sun Dance again when religious freedom was restored to the Native Americans in 1978 with the Indian Religious Freedom Act’s passage. When John danced, and I went to support him, the Sun Dance had only returned for twelve years. Rarely had whites been allowed to attend, much less participate. I began to understand why the Indian I met thought I had to be adopted to attend this ceremony to bring healing to the earth, the world, and the people upon it. I felt humbled that Gary invited us to attend.
LESSON: Pay Attention to Signs and Allow God and Spirit to work.
GIFT: I learned more about the masculine and feminine within each of us and that everything is masculine and feminine.
I also understood more about the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual parts of Self and Others plus what needs to be healed through Sun Dance.