Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Leonard Crow Dog, "SACRED STONES ARE COMING TO SEE YOU," Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men, transcribed by Richard Erdoes

Inside we were huddling in total darkness. All I could see was a red glow from the heated stones. I could feel their warmth. Now I knew that I was truly in Grandmother's womb, in the darkness of the womb, the darkness of the soul. In the warmth and moisture, I felt that this was myself being born.

My father said, "The inipi uses all the powers of the universe. The fire, the water, the earth, the air are here, within the sweat lodge. Feel the power of inyan wakan, the sacred rock. All living things are in here." The scent of burning sweet grass and sage was around us like a blanket. I tried to catch this smoke with my hands and rub it all over me. My father prayed. He sang the songs. Then he poured cold water over the red, hot rocks.

All at once the initi was filled with white steam. It curled around us and enfolded us. It was very hot, so hot that I thought the steam would burn me up. My lungs seemed to be on fire. But I knew that this was a blessing, that it was the breath of the Creator purifying me. And out of the hot whiteness I heard my father's voice: "Immersed in this cloud, you will be cleansed. You will be prepared."

More rocks were brought in. Then the flap was lowered over the entrance. More water was poured over the rocks, and again Grandfather's breath enfolded us. And again I heard my father's voice: "Cultivate your mind, for all medicine goes there. Center the mind on the spirit. Ask the sweet grass to show you the way. Your vision will tell you the rest."

This was a four door sweat, meaning that the flap was opened and closed four times, and each time everything was repeated. I had the privilege to talk every time the flap was lifted, but what we talked then I'll keep to myself. After the fourth door we were given cold spring water to drink. And my father said, "The moment we drink the sacred water of life, we receive its blessings. The moon brought all the waters together, from a tiny drop, to a lake, to a river. Let your mind flow like the water."

Imagine yourself being thrown into a pool of inky, impenetrable blackness. You feel disembodied, isolated, though you are aware of friends being all around you. Imagine the roaring drums, the powerful voices of the singers, drowning out all other noises, emptying your mind completely of all that does not matter, making it ready to be filled with wonder. For those who believe, the darkness is welcome, concentrating their minds on the Spirit of Yuwipi. To them the trance-inducing drumbeat is the gladdening pulsebeat of life, upon skeptical whites the effect can be different. Sometimes the darkness frightens them. It makes them feel claustrophobic. But eventually they get used to this "Night Song." At the end of the Yuwipi ceremony, there are few skeptics left.

Suddenly, out of the darkness, come little whisperings, otherworld talk, muffled sounds—Spirit Voices, speaking a language only the Yuwipi man can understand. Little sparks of light appear out of nowhere, like so many fireflies. First one, then many, dancing around the people sitting along the walls, flitting back and forth over the ceiling. The Spirits have come in. 

The rattling gourds fly through the air. Sometimes they hit one of those who want to be cured. It is a good sign. The ones who are touched by the Wagmuha will get well. The thin high-pitched cry of eagles, the beating of their wings is heard. Feathers caress the faces of some of those who are present to experience these mysteries. The voices of the singers rise to a crescendo, this goes on for a long time, for hours even. Then, suddenly, all is quiet. The sparks of light fade away, the whispering stops. The Wagmuha are at rest on their proper places, next to the sacred staff. Someone turns on the light. The Yuwipi man sits in the center, unwrapped and untied. He has been dead, but brought back to life by the prayers of those taking part in the ceremony. He tells of what the Spirits Voices have told him, interprets what they have said about the cause of a person's sickness, or where something lost might be found. He doctors the sick ones, fanning them with his eagle wing, blowing on his eaglebone whistle, telling people what herbs to use, maybe giving them some of his special medicines. Going clockwise, the people begin to talk about what they have learned during the time of darkness. They speak about their feelings and problems. The Yuwipi listens and advises. He might tell of having been far away, hundreds of miles even, while lying wrapped in his star blankets. He might identify some of the spirits who had been present—the Spirit of Crazy Horse, maybe, or the Spirit of some humble, no-account, long dead fellow—one as important as the other. The sacred pipe goes around, clockwise also. Everyone takes a few puffs, says a few good words, as the air is filled with the aromatic smoke of Indian tobacco. They say: "Mitakuye Oyasiz," All my relations to include all living things in their prayers. This ends the ceremony. Afterwards, as after all Lakota rituals, there comes the feast. They eat the dog and the berry soup; drinking thick black coffee—Pejuta Sapa, our "Black Medicine," making small talk. At last they get up to greet the dawn, and go back to their homes. A few linger a little longer, until the sun is well up.

1 comment:

  1. I am Crow Dog. I am the fourth of that name. Crow Dogs have played a big part in the history of our tribe, and in the history of all the Indian Nations of the Plains during the last two hundred years. We are still making history. I am talking this book because I don't read or write. I never went to school where they try to make Lakota children into Whites. Where it takes them eight years to teach you to spell "CAT" correctly. Talking and listening, not writing, that's in our tradition. Telling stories sitting around a fire or potbelly stove during the long winter nights, that's our way. I speak English as it forms up in my mind. It's not the kind of English they teach you in schools. I won't use no five dollar words. I always think up the story in my own language. Then I try to put it into English. Our Lakota language is sacred to me. Even now, as I am talking, our language is getting lost among some of us. You can kill a language. The White missionaries and teachers in their schools committed language genocide. We are trying to bring our old language back, try to purify it. So now I'm telling my own story in my own way—starting at the beginning.