Being Hollow

This is a post that is hard to write conclusively, because it presents a paradox for the writer. It embraces a concept that is far easier to describe than to achieve. It centers around the practice of being a “hollow bone” for Spirit.

In his book Fools Crow – Wisdom and Power, Thomas Mails quotes the late Lakota holy man, Frank Fools Crow, as saying “Anyone can do the things I do if they can live as I do”. This writer only aspires to that, but we have to start somewhere.

That book introduces the idea that a key to accessing the power of Spirit is being a “hollow bone” through which Spirit can flow to others for their healing or benefit. Fools Crow’s actual practice for accomplishing this is described, though the underlying principle is merely the presentation of yourself to Spirit for that purpose.

It is an effort to properly be a “hollow bone” for Spirit. There is no place for being self-centered in any way. Allowing any ambition or self-serving motivation into your practice creates an impediment for Spirit to flow through you to others. This is why the practice described included discarding selfish motivations and intentions. His use of a “Self-offering Stick” reinforced that.

I learned early on that the medicine path is not a path to material wealth. Medicine people are traditionally the poorest people in the village, because they harbor nothing for themselves. It is a life of self-offering and humility; there is no other methodology to accomplish the work. Realizing what Spirit can accomplish through such a person is humbling in itself, but the effort to hold human nature in check is paramount nevertheless.

This principle is universal to all spiritual systems. The elevation of others over self is a mainstay in the teachings of these systems. And it is the prerequisite to accessing the Divine and being a conduit for it to the world around us.

Critical Correction

As a follow-up to the previous post, I would like to hone in on an actual example of the tightrope that confronts the sincere seeker in discerning the validity of the claims of an available resource purporting to offer the information that is being sought after. Actual names will not be used, in that I have offered criticism of this individual and group at other times and places that may have been overly harsh or even unwarranted. It is a tightrope when you choose to offer criticism; you must be very certain of your knowledge base. Perhaps I was not.

There is a Lenape “nation” (that is, a group calling themselves a nation without any documentable historic or cultural criteria that would allow them to be considered for Federal recognition as a nation) close to me that I have been acquainted with from very early in my journey. It is headed by an individual who calls himself a medicine person and performs in that capacity regularly and publicly. He has performed ceremony for me, in person and on my behalf, many times over the years, though not so much recently (my fault).

I have flip-flopped numerous times over the years about how I regard this resource. I have spent enough time with this man, at his most visible ceremonial venue and via correspondence, to know that he does not exactly fabricate his cultural and traditional information from whole cloth. He is acquainted with recognized primary source material for the Lenape people. He makes an earnest effort to study and learn.

And yet (and this is where the tightrope narrows) his cultural and spiritual teachings draw from oral sources that do not align with the primary source materials. He claims to have received oral knowledge from family sources that are not easily documented or verifiable. His actual practices seem to be an amalgam of traditions from numerous Native cultures. This has made him an easy target for diverse critics working from more verifiable and academically accepted resource bases. At various times I have fallen into step with the critics and denounced this individual as a charlatan.

But here’s the rub: His medicine is good. He taught me a rain-calling song that actually works quite reliably. He awakened (blessed) a pipe for me that was very effective. The sweatlodge tradition I learned from him produces the desired outcomes, as far as I know. And he has remained a friend and available resource to me throughout all of my waffling.

Something I have come to understand recently is the need for steadfastness in your practice of the medicine path. Frank Fools Crow (the late Lakota holy man) introduced me to the idea of being a “hollow bone”; a clear conduit for Spirit to convey healing or power to other individuals. What I realized recently is that that will be compromised by allowing criticisms from others to cause hard feelings to build up as a result. That can be compromised by anything that turns our attentions inward; there is no room for being self-centered in medicine.

It is another tradition that a Native leader (chief) must have a “skin of seven spans”, i.e. to be indifferent to criticisms when you are convinced of the validity of your viewpoint and actions. There will always be someone who opposes or questions your position on any given subject. The great leader will proceed resolutely, with the certainty that time will vindicate him.

Given that I have also learned over the years that Native spirituality is not a hard target–that certain principles govern the practices but there is room for vast diversity in the actual performance of these practices–and that it is next to impossible for a non-Native to find willing teachers among the recognized Native community, I no longer wish to be overly critical of this individual. He has stood the test of time and resilience for me. I leave it to others to reach their own conclusions.

Wannabee Medicine – Experience As Proof

There is no question that experience provides the proof of concept. The hobbyist can experiment with Native culture, tradition and spirituality for a while, but if the pursuit is done in sincerity, sooner or later, something will be experienced that solidifies their belief that there is more to Native culture than arcane curiosities.

I do not pray on the smoke of the pipe because it fulfills my need to appropriate an element of a culture that is not my own. I have seen enough of those prayers be answered that I cannot attribute them to a “law of averages” alibi. There have been odd coincidences that have accompanied pipe ceremonies which make me believe that I am not just blowing smoke!

I no longer go to a sweat lodge for a good detoxification sauna. I have experienced the “sweat lodge vision”, and it has colored my journey across the intervening years.

I will relate two particular incidences that completely solidified my confidence in Native spirituality. The naysayer may scoff, but I saw these events. The reader may make of them what you will.

I was at a powwow, as a storyteller, and the day was going well. After lunch, clouds began to gather and it became apparent that rain was imminent. This was not a fortuitous circumstance; it was the second day of the first year for that powwow and the public would be disappointed to have their experience foreshortened. Nonetheless, soon the rain began.

I had read the book “Fools Crow” (Thomas E. Mails, 1990; apparently no longer in print) sometime previously and the account of him stopping the rain for the benefit of his people was stuck in my mind. I would not place myself on a par with Frank Fools Crow, but the idea appealed to me and I felt an inner urging to attempt something similar.

I borrowed the emcee’s microphone and told the audience that I was going to allow them to hear a Native prayer. Call me presumptuous… I addressed the four directions and other spirit helpers and asked them to push away the rain so that we could complete our dances until the microphone was taken from me because of the shock hazard and to protect the equipment from water damage, I imagine. If I remember correctly, I completed my prayer under an awning. Within fifteen minutes, the clouds passed, the sun returned, and we completed the day without further incident.

The second incident was similar. The details of the account are not as interesting, but the results are imprinted in my memory. We were staying at a camp when the area was placed under a tornado watch. I was impressed to climb an embankment and offer prayers for the tornadic activity to skirt around us. Some of the camp experienced straight-line wind damage, but the tornado did indeed touch down elsewhere, in the direction I had indicated.

I cannot say with certainty that either event had anything to do with my prayers. I have only my belief that it did. Nevertheless, it solidified my belief that there is something to the Native spiritual traditions. The grandfather to the west, the keeper of the rains, heard and answered my request. Believe it or don’t.

Thoughts on Ritual

An artist friend recently commented to me regarding the prevalence of ritual in the practice of religion, that being man addressing the supernatural, however we choose to label it. In the course of our conversations, I am aware of her referring to a Mennonite upbringing, a voluntary conversion to Catholicism, the study of Wicca and an ongoing interest in majick. It is safe to say, she has seen ritual in many contexts.

The actual content of our conversation at that time revolved around our bemusement that Christian religion is somewhat defined by its condemnation of ritual in any context other than itself. The Church has, at various points in history, persecuted individuals and groups on the suspicion of heresy for any ritualistic activity that is not practiced exactly as they prescribe it.

I dare say, a most egregious example of this is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the practice of literally transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ in the portion of the Common Mass referred to as “communion”. This is an act of magic in a most unambiguous manner. The phrase “bell, book and candle”, which is commonly used in the modern vernacular to denote magic of a more secular kind, is derived directly from this ceremony; those elements figure conspicuously in that very practice. And yet the Church is quick to condemn any other activity that might claim to accomplish a similar objective.

Likewise, my own Protestant fundamentalist upbringing demonstrates a similar hypocrisy. The denomination I was raised and educated in actually denies the likelihood of any supernatural feat being accomplished by the hand of man, but the more Pentecostal fellowship that I presently attend acknowledges the role of healers and prophets in modern life. Yet they would be quick to attribute the practice of those same activities outside of their prescribed formulas to forces of evil.

Indeed, this has been the nature of colonization since the institution of the Church. In the name of their God, all indigenous religion has been condemned while all indigenous territory has been confiscated for the purpose of reconditioning it for the occupation and use of the colonizers and those who will adhere to their doctrines. The Doctrine of Discovery, the policies of Terra Nullius and Manifest Destiny all proclaim this as God’s intent for His world.

The ceremonies I perform or participate in as a part of the Native American community would be decried, no doubt, as heretical by any Christian church I attend. While I was pastoring a Christian church, I was careful to self-censor any discussion or description of such activities. How it is acceptable to seek healing for an individual from the hand of God, but it is not if it is sought from the mercies of Wakan Tanka, seems a little hypocritical if you cannot definitively differentiate between the two. How revelation from the word of the Holy Spirit is commendable, but revelation received in vision as part of a sweat lodge ceremony is suspect, is equally curious.

There is a fundamental similarity between certain ritualistic practices of the Christian religion and certain ceremonial practices of those Native American spiritual systems which I have studied; they seek to accomplish similar objectives. As I have noted previously, if the colonizer missionaries that swept across the Americas in the early history of the Western Hemisphere had put down their White Man’s Burden long enough to truly understand the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous peoples they encountered, it is my firm conviction that they would have discovered that the indigenous spiritual systems did not diverge too widely from their own, on the most basic levels.

Portable Altars – Prayers on Smoke

Ceremonial pipe

The stories of most every nation includes one about the origin of the pipe and how tobacco came to the People. The pipe has been a part of the culture for as long as anyone can remember.

It would be out of my place to expound extensively on the pipe and its proper use. I really only wish to elaborate superficially on the use of the pipe in prayer. I have been taught that our words are carried by the smoke to the ears of the Creator.

This calls to mind the word picture painted in the Old Testament of the altars of burnt sacrifice. The smoke ascended to God and a proper sacrifice was a pleasing aroma in His nostrils. Likewise, the incense provided a pleasing aroma for both God and man and set the atmosphere for convocation between them.

I have written previously regarding my firm belief that there are significant parallels between traditional indigenous spiritual practices and the archaic elements of the Judaeo-Christian religious traditions. It is my opinion that smudging is very similar to the element of incense and that the pipe is similar to the altars of burnt offering in the Old Testament.

There are, traditionally, two ways in which a pipe may be used. One is a pipe that is used publicly, in a gathering of people, where more than one person might share the smoke of the pipe to seal an agreement or make a corporate prayer. In certain cultures, this is called a Peoples’ Pipe and it is kept and used by a pipe carrier. A pipe that might be used in this way is pictured above.

Personal pipe
A personal pipe

The other is as a personal pipe, used by an individual for himself or on behalf of others. In the tradition which I was taught, the personal pipe might be smoked in the morning, to greet the day, and in the evening, to end the day. It is always the vehicle for a conversation with the Creator. It can also be used in healing ceremonies.

In either modality, the smoke carries the words of the participant to the ear of the Creator. This is why the pipe was always smoked as a part of any treaty process; so that the agreements made would be heard by the Creator. And it was believed that no one would knowingly speak an untruth in the hearing of the Creator. Unfortunately, that belief was not shared by the colonizers, although history does suggest that it may have been exploited by them.

God Is Red – Point Taken

It took several attempts over several years to finish reading “God Is Red“, by Vine Deloria, Jr., because I kept getting stuck on his indictments of Christianity. I kept noting that it was an unfair assessment of the teachings of Jesus to judge them by the way they were perverted by the colonizers. I finally got his point on page 261.

The book is subtitled “A Native View of Religion”. The earliest part of the book is taken up with a brief examination of modern Indian relations and the popular perception of the American Indian and a comparison between Native religion (generally) and the Judaeo-Christian cosmology on points such as time and space, origins, history, death and human personality. The latter portion of the book is devoted to a discussion of how the Judaeo-Christian worldview influenced the colonization of the Americas.

It took me over 10 years to finish reading the book. I would begin reading it and repeatedly stall out because the analysis of how the Judaeo-Christian viewpoint on a certain subject was used as a pretext for the colonization of the Native population, while accurate, did not square with my understanding of Judaeo-Christian scripture. I could not assert that the author did not know his subject matter; he had pursued an education at a Christian seminary. Yet I objected to his insistence that historical orthopraxy accurately represented the import of Judaeo-Christian scripture.

Thus it was that I only grasped the import of the author’s message when I reached the latter portion of the book and read the following: “In almost every generation trade and conversion for religious purposes have gone hand in hand to destroy nations of the world on behalf of Western commercial interests and Christianity. Where the cross goes, there is never life more abundantly–only death, destruction and ultimately betrayal.”

“Average Christians when hearing of the disasters wreaked on aboriginal peoples by their religion and its adherents are quick to state, ‘But the people who did this were not really Christians’. In point of fact, they really were Christians. In their day they enjoyed all the benefits and prestige Christendom could confer. They were cheered as heroes of the faith, enduring hardships that a Christian society might be built on the ruins of pagan villages. They were featured in Sunday School lessons as saints of the Christian church. Cities, rivers, mountains and seas were named after them.”

Then I understood his indictment. Then I could not argue against his point. There is no valid argument that can be made against the ugly truth that the “gospel of peace” had been exploited to justify the destruction of aboriginal peoples around the world.

As I stated in a previous post, I find no reason that Christianity and Native religion cannot coexist. I prefer to believe that God is color (ethnicity) neutral. But I concede that Native religion is devoid of the evangelism of exclusivity that underwrites the colonizer mindset; historical Christianity has provided that only too well.

This I Believe – Traditional and Christian

When my wife and I began to explore her Native ancestry, without a doubt the aspect of Native American tradition and practice that I most carefully examined and cautiously participated in were the spiritual traditions. We both grew up in fundamental Protestant traditions and I hold a baccalaureate degree in Bible (I studied to be a church pastor). I did not want to do anything to compromise my Christian beliefs.

Nevertheless, having investigated and contemplated for over 20 years, I find that an open mind will see little difference between traditional Native spirituality and Judaeo-Christian spirituality, at least in the most general sense. And I find that that viewpoint is shared by others on both sides of the matter.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that both Nicholas Black Elk and Frank Fools Crow considered themselves Roman Catholic and saw no contrast between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and Wakan Tanka, Tunkashila and the spirit helpers. I found myself in agreement with The Sacred Pipe: An Archetypal Theology and One Church, Many Tribes, and other books of a similar nature, written from the perspective of both traditions.

I have to admit that I found the Roman Catholic cosmology easier to correlate with Native American spirituality than that of my own Protestant traditions. There are more levels of spiritual assistance available in that model, allowing for better correlation between the two systems (Native American spirituality and the Judaeo-Christian tradition). To be honest, my fundamentalist Protestant tradition downplays angels and excludes saints (ascended heroes of the faith), leaving the Trinity as a monolith of the sacred, with even the Holy Spirit having an indeterminate role in the daily affairs of mortals.

I have not made an exhaustive study of the traditions and cosmologies of all Native nations, thus my perspective may not match every nation’s cosmology. The two traditions that I can address broadly with some degree of confidence are the Eastern Woodlands traditions and the Plains traditions; any others may diverge from the correlations made in this post.

Had the colonizers put down their White Man’s burden long enough to truly understand the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, it is my firm conviction that they would have discovered that the indigenous spiritual systems did not diverge too widely from their own, on the most basic levels. Indeed, it is my conviction that the Native spiritual systems I have studied bear a great deal of resemblance to the archaic Judaeo-Christian system.

First, the Native traditional spiritual systems which I have studied are monotheistic. There is one God, though He may be referred to as Creator, Great Mystery, Wakan Tanka, or some other name. There are myriad Spirit helpers that assist that one God, but none of them are accorded equality to Him.

It would not be correct to absolutely equate the Spirit helpers to angels and saints, but there are similarities that prompted me to co-opt them for that purpose. The four directions could be roughly analogous to the four archangels. The specialization of the spirit helpers is vaguely analogous to the patron saints. That’s where any correlation must stop, but it worked for me.

Likewise, the use of incense in Roman Catholic worship is analogous to smudging and offering prayers on tobacco smoke. The invocation of Mary as an intercessor could be seen as analogous to asking the various spirit helpers to join in prayers or carry them to the Creator.

None of this can be found in the Protestant fundamentalist traditions I was educated in. But I choose to remember that Protestantism arose from Roman Catholicism and discarded all those elements and practices, and that Old Testament Judaism (right up to the time of Christ) incorporated those elements and practices as well. Thus, I do not find them to be idolatrous but merely archaic.

A singular post does not afford the breadth to consider all of the elements of ceremony and practice. Perhaps subsequent posts can center on the pipe, the sweat lodge ceremony, and other specific elements of Native traditional spirituality. Suffice it to say for now that I have found no reason to view Native spiritual traditions as antithetical to Christian belief. An open mind can traverse freely between the two.

Who Gave You The Rite?

The average pretendian has no more business practicing Native ceremony than any lay person does conducting his religion’s sacred ordinances. The reason this concerns me is because I have come to acknowledge Native spirituality as real and effective. What I practice I practice with the expectation that I will achieve the intended effect of each practice. I have crossed over into the realm of actual belief rather than exploratory experience and curiosity.

One of the greatest transgressions the hobbyist commits is the assumption that Native spirituality is something to be practiced casually, as a novelty or recreational pursuit. The pipe, the sweat lodge, and any other ceremony that can be discovered and emulated are regarded as sacred in the cultures from which they are appropriated. These methodologies are intended to be exercised with reverence by individuals thoroughly educated in them. Again, the incidence of people presuming to conduct pipe ceremonies and lead sweat lodge ceremonies within a few years of deciding to investigate their Native heritage is astonishing.

I can testify to this personally, to my shame. I unabashedly appropriated the pipe ceremony after watching it performed a few times by various people, without knowing if they knew what they were doing either. If you are Native, you have a pipe. And if you are spiritual, you have a pipe to use in ceremony. I was made aware of the role of a pipe-carrier in Native spirituality and decided that I should be one.

Likewise, after I had attended a few sweat lodge ceremonies, I thought I should be able to lead one. And no one ever really told me differently. A certain “medicine chief of the Eastern Allegheny tribes” kind of suggested that he should be the one to sign off on my spiritual abilities, but he was far enough distant from my group that he could not really enforce that.

When I went to a powwow in Alabama, the clan medicine man I was introduced to spontaneously acknowledged me as a pipe-carrier and was going to gift a pipe to me, so I accepted that as an imprimatur that it was so. He did eventually gift a pipe to me, which I still use and honor. But there were flaws in the process by which that was done.

First, there were no pipe-carriers among the Eastern Woodlands cultures; it was a non-existent role in the culture. That role is found among the Plains cultures, and the term even meant different things among the different nations. Second, while the lineage of the tradition by which I was acknowledged as a pipe-carrier is authentic, originating with a Lakota chief who is still living, I was never actually trained in it.

There was a misunderstanding when the medicine man offered his acknowledgement and I did not receive the pipe. Months later, I was gifted another pipe, which had been crafted somewhat to my specifications by a pipe-maker who was authorized by another Lakota pipe-maker, at a powwow close to where I was living at the time. No instruction was offered about how to use it properly; no doubt there was an assumption that I already knew.

So, the cultural path by which I received my ceremonial pipe is as follows. A Lakota chief taught a Cherokee medicine man a pipe tradition. The Cherokee medicine man acknowledged a Lenape medicine novice as a pipe-carrier and presented him with a Lakota-crafted pipe without actually transmitting the pipe tradition he had learned. Can you see the gradual disconnect? It is little wonder that I have heard that the Lakota chief was criticized for the liberality with which he proliferated his pipe tradition.

One of the principles of Native medicine is that it is only as effective as the faith the participants bring to it. Native healing is a cooperative venture involving the healer, the subject, and their Creator. The person seeking healing must believe that healing is possible and that the healer has the knowledge and ability to accomplish the healing process. The healer must believe in himself/herself and that he/she is able to channel the power of Creator to the subject using the methodologies known or revealed to him/her in the process of performing the healing.

This applies to every other practice in any given culture’s spirituality. The pipe is only as effective as the faith of each participant in the power of the pipe to accomplish its purpose. The sweat lodge will only bring healing or cleansing to the individual who places faith in its ability to do so.

There are actually many sweat lodge traditions across the various tribal cultures. Among the Lenape, the sweat lodge was primarily used for healing or community. It did not carry the spiritual significance of the way that it is utilized in Lakota tradition. But the Lakota tradition is what I learned and appropriated, essentially. It is the tradition most widely practiced among the hobbyists, I would presume, perhaps because it does carry a high degree of spiritual significance.

Yet therein lies a danger. If your practice of that sweat lodge tradition is based on actual belief in the Lakota system that it is a part of, the lodge is much more than a structure of bent saplings covered by blankets or hides. It is an interface with the realm of the spiritual; a representation of the universe. It is a place of power; power that can hurt you if it is misused.

I will not elaborate; the reader will have to interpret this as they wish. Nevertheless, it is not hard to research instances in recent history that have proved injurious, or even fatal, for participants in sweat lodge ceremonies that were conducted improperly. I suppose the underlying reasons for injuries and deaths in these sweat lodge ceremonies are subject to interpretation as well.

But the obvious parallel to this is the outrage that would be expressed if a Native medicine person would presume to perform the rituals and utilize the sacraments of Western religious traditions. Would an orthodox practitioner of the Roman Catholic faith be comfortable receiving Holy Communion from a Lakota holy man? Would they accept Last Rites from a Cheyenne healer? In the same way, the ceremonies of Native spirituality are not idle playthings.

In every indigenous spiritual tradition, the world over, there is a lineage to the practices of each tradition; the tradition is passed to a student by an acknowledged “master”, who received it from another “master”, and so forth, back a recitable line of accession. Only when the student has satisfactorily demonstrated a thorough understanding of and ability to perform a particular ceremony or practice are they given permission to use it at their own discretion. Thus, it should be imperative that we be able to recite the lineage of accession from which we derive our permission to perform any given ceremony publicly. And, if we cannot, we might be best advised to keep it to ourselves.

Honoring the Earth – Honoring the Medicine

A few years ago, my lawn tractor broke down. I could not get it to start; I concluded it was something in the ignition system. Anyhow, I stopped mowing the entire seven and one half acres we own. I still hand mow the acre or so around the house; the horses and goats nibble at the rest but, to my neighbors’ consternation, most of it now grows wild.

Somewhat simultaneously, I began to develop a serious interest in herbalism. I had long held a passing interest in natural medicine and alternative healing modalities, but I really began to study herbalism. And then I discovered what grew up in the places I no longer mowed.

Last year, my rather relaxed work schedule permitted me to do a fair amount of foraging and gathering. I began to make tinctures and dry roots and leaves. And I began to pay attention to what was growing up in the places I no longer mowed down and elsewhere.

Actually, even the part I was trying to keep mowed got away from me and I found myself trying just to keep pathways cleared to allow access to the barns and outbuildings and such. So, this year, I determined that I would make a concerted effort to keep up with the acre or so, and began to mow fairly early in the growing season with the intent to mow each week.

The front yard area and the areas toward the barns didn’t arouse my attention much. There is burdock and dandelion scattered throughout, but there is plenty of that elsewhere. I mowed around the patch of stinging nettle we allow to propagate next to the garden. But I ended up leaving the back yard area for the next day.

I had planted some flowering tree starts, which I had received from the Arbor Day Foundation, around the back yard area, so I knew I would have to be careful around those. But then I began to notice other interesting plants and shrubs around the periphery of the yard area. I realized that a sharply defined yard area no longer matters to me. There are still raspberry canes and wild roses growing at the edges of the slightly diminished yard area and what appears to be an unexpected domesticated rose bush growing in the middle of the yard area. And I found myself apologizing audibly to the canes and plants I did choose to mow off.

In the course of my herbal studies, I have read several authors, and heard at least one speaker, who talk about getting to know plants personally; going and sitting with them to “hear” what they can tell us about themselves, asking their permission to harvest from them and giving back to them to honor their gift to us. Each of these authors and speakers attribute these practices to Native origins. Indeed, I was already aware that these practices were a part of most indigenous medicine traditions.

In the course of my career as a farrier, I have grown more and more into intuitively practicing kinship with the horses I interact with. Likewise, I have found this to be true of all the creatures that inhabit our seven acres. I have come to realize experientially that we really ARE all related.

My wife has had to become accustomed to my conversations with mice, spiders, snakes, flies, bees, wasps, fleas, ticks and so forth regarding respecting our space so that no forceful confrontation will be required. Grudgingly, she is learning to do the same, though our limits of tolerance are not necessarily the same.

I find myself thinking that this post did not live up to the noble sentiment the title suggested. The words that rolled off of my fingers do not quite match what I had originally anticipated. But, really, the concept of honoring the earth is contained in the concept of honoring the medicine (plants). And, really, both concepts end up being rather elementary:

When you learn to internalize the precept that everything in the creation carries a spark of the Creator, animate and inanimate, you cannot see the world as a colonizer any longer. As I heard Chief Arvol Looking Horse state recently, “You begin to see the earth as our source, not a resource.” When you sense the kinship we share with the plants and animals around us and learn to appreciate the interdependence of everything in the web of life, you will not even mow your yard in the same way.

The Conundrum of Spirituality

It would probably be ideal if the pretendian would not even venture into the arena of Native spirituality. But that is a virtual impossibility for several reasons.

Foremost is the understanding that spirituality is inseparable from Native culture. It is integrated into every facet of the culture because of the cosmologic perspective of the Native, that everything is spiritually connected in the web of Creation. There is no activity that does not have a spiritual aspect integrated into it.

Secondarily, spirituality draws each individual to itself. We are all fascinated by the spiritual. Even the avowed atheist acknowledges that there are facets of human existence that surpass understanding, though they dismiss them as matters that just have not been quantified yet.

And, finally, the unique features of indigenous spiritual practice invite exploration by the hobbyist initiate. Curiosity compels us to explore the unfamiliar terrain of indigenous spirituality.

Thus, if you are intent on actually living in a Native manner, you cannot avoid spirituality. Yet, authentic Native peoples are not willingly forthcoming about their spirituality, and not without reason.

I have learned repeatedly that there is no faster way to turn a dialog with a Native person to silence, even with close acquaintances, than asking questions about their spiritual traditions and practices. Whether they are reluctant to answer incorrectly or just feel compelled to protect the traditions from non-Native persons who are likely to misuse and misrepresent them, it is very difficult to obtain spiritual information in an informal manner.

Should you be fortunate enough to have an authentic Native elder open themselves up to teach you, be sure to offer a gift of tobacco to them for their wisdom and then listen quietly to whatever they have to say. Don’t interrupt them with questions, as non-Native people are apt to do. They will tell you what Spirit directs them to tell you; you should not attempt to direct the conversation.

Nevertheless, for the most part, you will find that you will have to learn what you can, wherever you can, and practice at your own risk. It is my belief that our Creator accepts our spiritual practices when they are done with reverence and sincerity. We should strive to honor the traditions we can learn by practicing them exactly as we were able to learn them. Beyond this, we must rely on Spirit to guide us in other practices we feel compelled to pursue.

We should constantly seek to enhance our knowledge as opportunities present themselves. Then, when we have put forth our best effort to learn and preserve the spiritual traditions and practices of the culture we are assimilating, as we are granted permission to practice them, we should be confident that no harm will befall us. Our prayers will rise with smoke and be honored by our Creator.