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Friday, June 23, 2006

A Lakota Sioux Sundance Dedicated for Jason's Healing

I have been in SD south of Rapid City since June 14 staying in a cabin owned by Dow's cousins Loren and Gloria. A friend in Chicago had told me of a Sundance on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Reservation in central South SD about 3 hours from where I am staying. Jane a Jungian analyst knew friends were attending the Sundance and invited me to "stop there" and see if I would want to particapate as this four day Sundance was for healing.

Personal Disclaimer:
This entry is a report of my physical, emotional, spiritual experiences and participation in a Sundance ritual for Jason's healing of mind, body and emotions. This is a "rough draft" of the experience as I know I will ponder its impact again and again in the future. I do believe that G-d is everywhere: in whom we live and move and have our being. We and all creation are born, live and die in G-d. I begin to write this reflection the morning after a quiet drive from the Sundance through the Badlands. I was told to "stay grounded" after experiencing the day of Sundance. Driving in the quiet across the National Grasslands of SD with the setting sun before me enabled me to do so on Thursdsay. This entry is my recollection of the information given to me by the Jungian analysts, dance leaders, and family members who were present and participating in the Sundance rituals. Any mistakes are due to my faulty memory. This is the first time that I have ever attended a Native American ritual. I am including the details because I assume that almost all of the readers of Jason's blog have not had the opportunity to attend a Sundance.

Jungian Analysts
These are my thoughts and reflections as to why Jungian analysts were deeply involved in the Sundance ritual as I have been in Jungian analysis for 8 years. Carl Jung was Freud's pupil who broke with him and focused his own life's work on studying " "the healthy person" One of Jung's important pyschological insights is that we are all born with patterns of behavior: mental, physical and most importantly pyschological. (DNA research is now revealing that at least 50% of behavior is inherited) These patterns include a relationship with God, in Jung's term the Self with a capital S. Jung called the expression of these patterns archetypes. We are all born into a culture, religion, ethnic group etc. These will "shape" the expression of the archetype of Self into different outwardly rituals, prayers, beliefs, religions, etc. It is important to realize that the source of the search for God and the expression of the relationship is the same, the archetype of Self within each of us. In Jungian insight every soul is female and women have an innate ability to connect with the Self for this reason, women are feminine in soul and gender. For men, the journey inward to God is more difficult for the guide to the Self comes most clearly as the feminine, the anima.

I think for Jungian analysts the desire to touch the Self and experience an exploration of the human relationship to God outside Europeon Western religion and culture would be an imperative. This is exactly what Jung did in his travels looking for the patterns giving rise to the lived religious life of the world's indigenous peoples.

The Setting
The Sundance is being held on the property of Florentine's Lakota Sioux Grandmother's property. Found after much searching and asking by taking a drive turning at a closed wooden RC church named St. Rose. Grandmother foretold Florentine "doing things" down there. "There" being a meadow below a hill, lower bluff (location of parking, kitchen, and sleeping tents) and below an open space, I would call a meadow. From the camp of the Jungians about 10 steps were cut away in the dirt of the bluff leading to the back of the dance area and a guard rail installed. The day was perfect, cooler under the trees with the camp on the bluff and very warm in the dance area. Blue sky with clouds abound providing shade intermittenly during the dance rounds. About 200 persons attend the dance over the four days.

The Sundance is held at this location once each year, it is the Florentine Sundance, named after the lead dancer. The dance has been held at the site for 13 years. The Sundance is situated in the center of a circle. The circle being formed by shade arbors, once covered by pine boughs now covered with plastic tarp to keep from cutting trees each Sundance. Within the circle created by the arbors, an inner circle is created by foot high red sticks each hung with a tobacco offering wrapped in a red cloth. There is " a gate" marked by two higher white sticks in this circle in the direction of the South, North, East and West. The gates/color of directions are also the four colors of humanity: red, white, black and yellow. For the Lakota the East must not be crossed during the dance so it is blocked off with tape and noone either dancer or audience can cross. The Lakota believe that all energy enters the Sacred Circle through the east and must not be transgressed by a human.

The Sundance Days
This Sundance lasts for four days. It is offered for personal and community healing of the tribe and especially the intentions of those who participate. It is open to outsiders and many whites were present. The Sundance consists of rounds of dance lasting 30 to 40 minutes with about 45 minutes of break in between from about 6 to 6 PM. The dance has drummers, very large with about 4 drummers to the drum and a number of singers. The musicians change during the day. No jewelry or glasses are to be worn if you are dancing, nothing that sparkles is allowed in the circle. No photography, audio recording or notetaking is permitted. No one except the lead dancers can go near the tree except when one makes a flesh offering. Between dances the leaders may speak about the dance, or share personal stories of meaning or teaching about the dance and Sioux spiritual life. There are no watches or program schedule so the pace flows at a natural progression and changes can be made as necessary by the leaders.

The Days:
1. The 30 foot poplar tree is decorated with the prayer flags of each of the dancers. Bundles of tobacco and flesh offerings are also tied to the tree. The tree is set in place with a liver of a buffalo at the base of the pit, the Sioux being dependent on the buffalo for their individual and communal life. The tree (male) is thrust into the Earth (feminine). From earth and sky all life comes and the tree symbolizes the connection of both; all of creation including humanity. It is painted ochre the color of Indian skin. The flags are large pieces of cloth, red white, green, blue. At about 6 feet a series of flags encircles the trunk and covers the flesh offerings tied in red 1 1/2 inch bundles also encircling the trunk.

2. The second day is dedicated to the Sacred Pipe of the Lakota Sioux. On my arrival I was told there would be no body piercing today. I was glad as I had great reservations in my ability to watch this part of the ritual. Fred told me something akin to this, "It is not torture but a ritual that connects the dancer more closely with all the suffering of humanity and the evolutionary suffering of all creation itself." (It was very good to have a Jungian as a guide to the Sundance. Fred and his wife Karen have been coming to the Sundance for 20 years. this was the day I attended the Sundance)

3. The third day all the dances are dedicated for healing. I was not present for this day.

4. The fourth day the tree and all ceremonial items are taken down. The flags are given to community members for making of blankets. The tobacco from the bundles is smoked "releasing the community's Sundance prayers to God." (I am sorry I do not know what is done with the flesh offerings. I assume the offerings are disposed of respectfully.)

The Dancers
The dancers come from several groups. The men wear red skirts and decorated beaded belts. The women wear long red dresses and skirts/shawls with fringe. No jewelry or glasses can be worn. One group are the four Lakota Sioux leaders including a woman from the Women's Group. Another group is the male dancers from the tribe itself. There are women dancers from the tribe or friends. Some of the dancers were white and came from Germany and Italy. Some were Vietnam veterans. Two dancers were pierced, one in his back and one on his front. These men were tethered to the tree during the dances by ropes connected to their body piercings. The men controlled their own movements either tightening or loosening the ropes as they danced on the ground opposite of each other with the tree in the center.

Flesh Offering
An individual may choose to make a flesh offering. This offering is a "symbol of the gift of myself for and a joining in the suffering of and a prayer for the other." Because of the time it takes, an individual may make between 1 to 4 flesh offerings. I chose to make a flesh offering for Jason's continued healing of mind, body and emotions.

I was escorted to the arcade by Nancy after a morning dance and was met by Fred who takes the flesh offering under sterile conditions. It is a small piece of flesh about 1/4 inch and just deep enough that the wound bleeds. I chose the right shoulder as Jason's right arm is amputated. I was given the Indian pipe (belonging to and used by Fred) to hold and pointed toward the west "The beginning direction for the Sioux" I held the pipe, closed my eyes and began to weep in sorrow for Jason's wounding in combat. Fred said, "Pray to the God you know for Jason's healing, while I do this." "It is done." I opened my eyes and on a very small piece of red cloth, about 1/4 long was my flesh. A patch of sage was placed on my wound to stop the bleeding and the 1 1/2 inch square bundle tied with string.

I was taken to be smudged, a woman was by the outside entrance to the dancer's arbor with a can of burning pine/sage. She held the can and I "purified" myself by moving the smoke over my body with my hands. Previously before the offering I had purified myself with steam. Two young men watched a large bonfire that kept rocks hot. They would pick out a rock on a pitchfork, bring it to you, pour water over it and one would cleanse one's self with the steam as with the smoke/incense.

One of the dancers from Italy, I believe Albert, was to be my escort to the tree. You do not touch the dancers during any of the rituals. He had a hard red bracelet, looking like fabric over wire, that I was to grasp so I did. He led me through the dancer rest area, out to the dance circle through the west gate where we both turned clockwise around and were smudged again with smoke as we entered. He led me to the tree. We were the only persons in the circle. I carried the offering bundle tied with string long enough to let me tie it to the tree. I also carried Jason's album of photos of his healing journey at WR. He lifted up the flags tied to my face height and I tied the bundle to the tree. I said a prayer for Jason's continued healing and was escorted back through the gate and rest area. I was smudged again as I existed the area.

My Introduction to the Community and Request for Prayers
A little later I was told I was to go to the singer/drummer area for an introduction. Jeff one of the analysts dressed in the dance costume made a "formal" introduction of myself and my reason for being here. "Katy has a son named Jason who was seriously injured in Iraq last October. She has come to request our prayers for his healing. Please join in her prayers."

The Use of the Sacred Ceremonial Pipe for Jason's Healing
I returned to camp only to be told, "Come the leaders want you to "load the pipe."" Again I was escorted this time by Karen to a break area behind the dance circle. It was separated off by a tarp. We would be hidden from persons walking through the area. Fred said, "We have not done this before at a dance. This is a special honor." I was to pack the pipe and present it to the four leaders of the sundance. Fred opened a small tobacco pouch, gave me the pipe to hold in my left hand facing west and said we would load the pipe from each of the six directions includes up (sky) and down (earth). I was to pray for Jason's healing all through this"packing the pipe." Fred reassured me that Jason would be healed. I am sorry I cannot remember what he said for each direction. Fred took a twig from the pouch to "tamp the tobacco down." The tobacco was a mixture that included sage-that I could identify.

I would take a pinch of the tobacco, extend my hand in the direction I was told and place in the pipe. Fred would then tamp the tobacco down each time. "Use big pinches" he encouraged me. As I lifted my hand to each direction I could feel power gather and come with the tobacco "into the pipe bowl." It was like holding wind and bringing it into the bowl. Fred added one direction that especially touched my heart. "Gather the circle of elders and all that lives on the earth." I made a circle in the air around me, placed the tobacco in the bowl and felt in the center of the community of believers past, present and future. I was now in Sacred space and time. I was participant and priest.

I was led to the South gate by Karen. She stood at my left, I asked, "Please do not let me do anything disrepectful of the ritual or people." Florentine and Fred and the other dance leaders came through the West gate and approached us. I was to offer the pipe to each person four times. I did so while the drums played and singers chanted. Each person before me was beautiful as I looked at them and they looked away (Indian cultural norm). TheIndian woman head of the Women's Group was dressed in blue, not red. I believe Florentine took the pipe and all the leaders went to the tree. Karen said, "Fred is representing you in the smoking of the pipe." The sharing of the pipe took a few minutes. The leaders/priests were smoking this pipe for Jason's healing.

Then the leaders again approached me for the reverse of the ritual, once smoked the pipe was returned to the giver/supplicant. I cannot adequately describe my experience in the return of the pipe to me, I can only try. Each leader presented the pipe to me 4 times. I felt at one with them and the God of All. I looked at each as they handed me the pipe and thought "Nemaste," meaning "The God in me greets the God in you." I knew each person had joined with me in praying for Jason's healing. I looked at each person overwhelmed by their beauty and their spirituality. I felt deeply saddened that white men had smoked this pipe, wrote treaties and broke the covenants made within the Sacred reality of Indian spirituality. I felt our participation in this ritual had reworked the broken bonds of trust and helped to heal them. I know in my soul, I asked forgiveness for what whites had done to Native Americans. (A unexpected spiritual experience (always a sign that this is not "of Katy's doing." As this ritual is for healing we should not be surprised that healing of memories between the peoples could occur if we are open and seek it.)

I was astonished, awed, humbled as I received the pipe from Florentine and the dancers walked away together. Fred remained behind and took the pipe from me. Karen led me back to the audience arbor.

Introduction by Florentine
In a few minutes Florentine came to the microphone and began to present my and Jason's story to the people present. He spoke in terms of all veterans and their service to the country and how we should honor them. Most emphatically he emphasized that this "white woman, white mother from Chicago found us to ask our prayers for healing of her white boy injured in Iraq." I was not offended by these terms but understood them to mean that I was an outsider who respected the power and spirituality of the Lakota Sioux and was sincerely asking for their help. I wanted to join with them as we prayed together for Jason's healing.

Then Florentine told us, "I may be out of order, but my grandmother used to sing a blessing for the men before they left for war. I would like to do this for this white mother and her son" Then he sang this beautifully haunting chant. I felt deeply humbled that Florentine would do this for Jason (and brings tears to my eyes again as I remember offering). Florentine spoke about all the tribal members who were present and were honored as serving in the military. He dedicated the next dance for Jason and myself, for our healing and for all the veterans who were present.

Karen said, "We must give an offering to the drummers and singers" she went and returned with money that I pressed into the hand of Francis the leader of the drummers.

The Sundance for Jason's Healing
Karen and I went to the back of the dancers arbor to be smudged and wait to be called to the circle. We would peek through the cloth walls of the arbor and see who was being called to the dance. First the leaders, then the vets were placed in front of the west gate about 8 in all, then the men, the women and then friends of dancers. As we stood more vets would come and quickly be smudged and enter the dance circle; the word was spreading that the veterans were to be honored during this dance.

Finally I was called to the circle. I entered holding one of the leader's, named Scott, eagle wing ties of brightly tanned deer hide ribbons. We turned in the center of the gate and were smudged again. Scott led me to the tree to pray again for Jason. This time I carried the photo album of Jason's healing journey at WR. I squatted down at the tree and Scott placed the prayer flags over me. I prayed for Jason's healing and felt surrounded by the leaders. I felt the eagle wings brush my back on the left side and the right side. I stood up and Scott led me back to the circle. I was immediately in front of the vets and the leader sent a woman vet to be on my left, I assume for support and direction. I was very pleased to have her by my side. "Don't worry they will tell us what to do" she smiled.

The drumming and the chant began with strong clear voices and beat. During the dance, the two men were tethered to the pole and both danced with vigor. I felt them connected to the suffering of Jason and all those who suffer from war, especially the veterans who were dancing. Behind me I felt the strong male presence of the veterans who were dancing. I felt them as "buffalo energy" like you see in pictures of horses shaped from the waves of the ocean. The dancers' energy was "formed as the buffalo." I was intrigued by this experience know that the collective life of the Sioux is intricately and intimately connected to the buffalo. Sometimes I cried and blessings to Florentine as he would come to me and wipe my tears with his red hankerchief and give me words of encouragement, "Pray for your son, be strong." All I could say is "Thank you."

Often during the dance, all would raise their arms to the heavens, a gesture I understand as praise. During this time I would hold Jason's photo album with both hands and raise it to G-d, offering prayers for him and thanking G-d for Jason's life. All the colors I could see; the tree and its flags and bundles, the sky and the quality of sunlight, the dancers' clohes and the color of their skin were more alive and vibrant than I have ever experienced. It was as if it were a weaving of prayer and meaning most pleasing to the Universe. I could get lost in the color, my soul drank it in. I do not know how long the dance lasted. We were all led out in reverse order of entrance back to the dancers arbor.

After I entered the shade a reception line formed. All the veterans wanted to meet me and I thought that I should thank them individually. I shook hands and hugged them and thanked them for their service and particapation in the dance. Then the women came and I did the same with all those who wanted to greet me. They assured me of their continued prayers for Jason. Florentine asked to see the pictures and with Fred looked at them. Then he said, "Can't look at anymore." I was escorted from the tent and returned to the camp.

Affirmation
Later Tom told me, "Did you hear, one of the drummers saw a spotted eagle. He flew overhead during the dance. It was a sign." I replied, "It is good, the eagle is a sign that our prayers are accepted as a suitable offering to G-d." I later looked up a "spotted eagle" which is not a species but an immature bald eagle. I was pleased, for me this means Jason's young soul "soars on the prayers we offered for his healing."

Invitation
When we were in the arbor after the dance, Florentine said, "Please invite Jason to come next year! You come back too." I was so honored that Florentine invited Jason. I pray that Jason and Jodi when they are ready would attend the Sundance and meet their new brothers and community of friendship. May Jason reap the healing and blessings of this Sundance for the rest of his life.

Thankfulness
I have no adequate way to express my deepest thanks to Florentine and the Lakota Sioux, for Fred and Karen, for the Jungians, for all the dancers for inviting, for accepting me into the community, and joining with me in prayers for healing.

All I can say is "Nemaste" and Many, many blessings for the journey for each of you and for the Beloved community for we are all one.

Post Reflection especially for Roman Catholics:
I love liturgy and many aspects of the Lakota Sioux religioius ritual awakened in me a comparison with the Roman Catholic ritual of the mass. I was struck because of the archetype mentioned earlier is clearly expressed/experienced in both rituals. In other words Jung is right ;-) Again these are my beginning reflections.

The total sundance is the communal prayer and praise to G-d the Creator. I did not experience a focus on one person (priest). The dance leaders were not alone but always with others and the community within the circle (church) danced. Even those under the "audience arbors" would dance in place, although not all did.

1. The tree in the center, decorated and created by the community. I immediately experienced it as an altar for RC's where sacrifice is offered and the center for communal worship.
2. The flesh offering: we call the liturgy, "The sacrifice of the mass" The Sioux use a very small piece of flesh as an "offering of self for others", as Jesus offered himself for others.
3. The smudging with steam or herbs. For me the natural connection is the signing of the cross with holy water when we enter or exit a church. Also the incensing of the congregation and sacred objects as during Easter service.
4. Offering and smoking of pipe. I experienced the pipe offering to be the Offertory, consecration and communion . The pipe itself is a vessel akin to an incense burner in the Jewish tradition used in the Temple. A gift is brought from the community, is blessed and offered. It is transformed by the smoking of the tobacco from object to prayer. It is given back to the community. For me communion was created in the return of the pipe to me, a representative of the community.
5. When Florentine wiped my face during the Sundance, I felt him as Veronica wiping the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary. I think this act of compassion is at the Heart of the Roman Catholic and Lakota Sioux spirituality and liturgy. I can think of no other greater connection to the Creator of All.

6 Comments:

Blogger GSMSO said...

Katy-
Your trip to SD, especially the Sundance dedicated to Jason's healing sounds like it was an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing it here. I hope you are well.

Ken's Mom

Monday, July 10, 2006 1:46:00 AM  
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Monday, July 10, 2006 5:21:00 AM  
Blogger FireFleitz said...

That certainly does sound amazing. We keep Jason in our prayers. Keep your chin up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 11:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Katy, what a blessing to you, Jason and your family that creator lead you to the keepers of the sacred pipe and sundance. I pray that Jason and you were able to attend the dance this year and know that prayer and connection to the sacrifice he has made for the people and that those who dance make for the people also. I pray Jason will find unconditional love, friendship, support and guidance from my brothers and sisters and that holy connection.
I really appreciate your sharing of your experience with others. I cannot express enough how important it is for people to let others know and clear up some of the fear, ignorance and judgement.
For your first time you did a great job and really comprehended what was happening and took the time to absorb it all. Wonderful!
Wanted to clairfy a few things for you with much love and kindness.
That is a sacred fire, not a bonfire, though to outsiders it may resemble that. Every single piece of wood, stone people, etc..is prayed for that is placed in it. Nothing goes into that fire, no food, cigarette butts etc...It is treated with respect, it is a living being also.
The wrist bracelet you grabbed, was not wire! but a sage bundle wrapped with red cloth. Same for the head and ankle bracelets.
No one is allowed to touch the dancers, as they are human bodies whose spirits are walking in the the spirit rhelm. You speak of experiencing that and the knowledge touching that sacred pipe, tree, seeing the wave of buffalo etc.. the sprits showed you.
Also, those prayer flags...at the dances I attend, the tobacco is not smoked afterwards! The closing of the sundance arbor for the year and tree is a whole nother ritual and ceremony.
Those tobacco flags on the tree contain prayers of the people for specific things and the tobacco would go to the sacred fire for releasing. It is my teaching that we who make tobacco offerings and we as humans have no right to interfere with that prayer offering by bringing others prayers into our bodies (by smoking them) and changing them or adding to them to release to the creator. The sacred fire does that.
I suggest when you attend the dance again, you offer tobacco ( traditional way to get teachings) to someone you wish to answer questions for you. If it is accepted they will share with you and be mindful whom you offer tobacco to, because if you ask different people the same questions, everyone will give you a differnt answer. and every one will be correct!
Pick one or two elders whom you trust and follow their teachings and protocal.
Also, be mindful that it pains me once again to have someone use "white." I know many aboriginal people who have light curly hair, blue eyes etc, black curly hair, green eyes etc..... Not every native person has red skin and long black hair.
Also, I know many aboriginal people who don't know their heritage and traditions and live the life of modern society. So please don't assume if they look native they are and know it all, and if they don't look it they're not.
Thanks again for sharing your experience and for you willingness to step onto the red road and let others who walk it to pray for you and with you.
As always the servicemen and service women and their families are in our thoughts and prayers.
Good health, happiness and clarity of mind to you.
Missy

Thursday, July 13, 2006 9:01:00 AM  
Anonymous dorothy franks said...

Katy....glad you had such a relaxing and uplifting trip. We must always keeps our young men and women in the armed services in our prayers as well as civilians over there who are suffering. Thanks for the update...appreciate the postcard. Dorothy Franks

Friday, July 14, 2006 7:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Marcia Blum said...

Katy -
What a wonderful experience you described! I pray that the ceremony brought you peace, and healing for Jason.
Thank you for your postcard. It sounds like you had a wonderful trip.
Marcia Blum

Saturday, August 26, 2006 5:31:00 AM  

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