Essay by Vicky Vaughan email@example.com
In Beauty, I Begin.
Katy here. Shall I tell you the story of the Gathering of Sweet Medicine Circles? (My brother, Matt, is helping me by drawing the pictures.)
A few years ago, men who are now Grandfathers of the Gathering came up with the idea of a yearly reunion of the Sweet Medicine Circles and individuals that were forming around the Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma areas. In those days people would get together for Long Dances in the AmerIndian tradition. Others would get together for times of spiritual cleansing and renewal. The Healing Hearts Weekend began so people could get together to do heart&soul-centered work.
Many different people were learning the power and beauty of returning to the Earth Mother through Sweatlodges and Medicine Wheels. In looking for a way into the future, individually they seemed to be led back to the past and its ancient traditions.
The Gathering of Circles began as a way for people to get together to just celebrate being, rather than focusing on the healing work. Many of the people have come from a 12-step background and are in recovery work during the rest of their year. This is like a milestone meeting for catching up on the beauty of being ~ of experiencing wholeness or holiness ~ in community, in an extended family.
For my own family, sharing a primitive camp in the high mountains of New Mexico is like going to a church retreat or revival is for my more traditional friends.
At Gathering we share ideas, ceremonies, spirituality, talents, information, friendships, and much caring with the people who come year after year ~ and with the new friends who are drawn there. Angeles Arrien teaches that who shows up was supposed to be there. That seems especially true on the Sweet Medicine Path. So, the Sweet Medicine Circle, like water ripples from a thrown stone, grows quietly and smoothly.
Mornings are lovely. I lay in my tent and listen to the other families around us. It is a Village for the time that we are here. Radios are only allowed with headphones so that we can each listen to the quiet and the village noises and the cows that occasionally wander into camp.
We camp up high on the timber roads, so no traffic disturbs us. Traffic only means that a group is arriving and will be looking for a place to set up camp. Mother says it might have been like this in the days of the traveling tribes. Safe and quiet. I am always surprised at how small sounds carry in the mornings.
I get up and dress fast with several layers. It is chilly in the morning, especially if it is misting or the dew is heavy, so I dress in clothes that can easily be taken off a layer at a time until, toward evening, the layers are added back again. Dad makes breakfast ~ he’s always the first one up. I eat quickly, then visit my “Heart-Family” until it is time for Morning Circle.
When I say Heart-Family, I mean that it is a family of choice, an adopted family. We do things together in some of the ways before automation. There are so many of us that we now are required to have porta-potties. When the mountains are dry and in fire alert, we use camp stoves instead of campfires. But there is no water where we go, no real roads to speak of, and cow-pies are in abundance. It seems pretty primitive to me!
My birth-family heritage is Welsh, Celt, Dutch, Irish, pioneer Texican, Cherokee and probably a lot more. As I learn about the ways of the Celts and the AmerIndian tribes, the more I am amazed that the things I am drawn to are ancient teachings. Honoring dreaming and the teachings of dreams. Observing and learning about animals and Mother Nature’s kingdom, then thinking how I learn things about myself from them. And the circles. In Ancient America and the Celtic world there are stone circles where the people would meet in sacredness, would figure out their problems and would teach each other new ways of surviving.
We do many things in a circle. We call it a Medicine Wheel like the AmerIndians, but within the Circle we have our own ways of doing ceremony.
During the time we share in the mountains, we have an Opening Pipe Ceremony to invite in Father Sky and Mother Earth and the Spirits of the Four Directions that remind us of many things. For me the directions remind me of the stages of life.
I think of New Beginnings when I look to the East, especially at the beginning of a new day, or a new adventure. When I look to the South, I am reminded of my joy at being a child of the Earth. When I look to the West, I think about the life I have before me. When I look to the North, I think about the winter of life, about the grandmothers and the grandfathers of our Village who are slowing down in their lives, growing hair like snow.
Mother says the elders love the children so because, like the children, they are closer to the Creator ~ children have just come from that spirit home, and elders are on their way back there. Mothers and Fathers, Aunts and Uncles are busy in the middle of life ~ learning, teaching, providing and making it safe for us ~ holding the strength of the Sweet Medicine Circle.
A Grandfather leads the Circles most of the time, though anyone could, I suppose. Like the tribes, too, we use the Talking Stick. He explains about honoring the power of the Talking Stick (which is a grownup way of ceremonially remembering to take turns). Children are never excluded, even as we all introduce ourselves within the Circle. We might choose to tie a talisman onto the Stick to represent us and why we came to this Path. It stays on the Stick until the Closing Circle at the end of Gathering. The Stick we use now is like a 3-legged tripod, but one of the legs has been broken and mended, so it is a little wobbly. Grandfather says it is like all of us, broken and mended, getting better with age, with being cherished.
Grandfather reminds us to honor and respect the land and the natural life on it as a part of our family ~ to treat it like we would like to be treated. He reminds us that this is not a place for alcohol or drugs. I especially like that because I’ve seen how rude and thoughtless people can be when they think they are “having a good time” drinking and drugging. It helps to make Gathering safer somehow, more honest ~ for the children, for all the Family.
He reminds us about the dogs-on-a-leash rule. That rule came up when Sweet Medicine Village was overrun with dogs who had no clue about staying out of sweatlodges or not disturbing massage class or a Shamanic Journey. The dogs (and maybe the kids and adults, too!) get excited about the sudden freedom. It is hard for me to concentrate on what I am trying to learn with dogs licking my face! I think if we had a permanent village, the dogs would learn respect for the sacred spaces, but I guess they are as glad as the people to be outside in the mountains where nature smells and feels and sounds different than it does in a neighborhood!
I am remembering hearing Grandfather Dan laugh from his belly the first year the dogs were to be kept on a leash. Someone took it literally and one of the big dogs was running through the Village dragging its leash. I think he said it was a “creative” way of interpreting the rule.
At Gathering when we are having the Opening and Closing Pipe Ceremonies, it is also a time to honor the village Pipe Carriers, those among us who have been gifted with a sacred pipe and with the responsibility that goes along with it. This, too, is an AmerIndian way that we have adapted to how our own hearts lead us. Each year our ceremonies are a little more our own, a little less borrowed from other traditions. I like this very much. It feels adaptable and yet stable, unique and yet ancient.
Shamanic Journeying is like meditation or prayer to a drumbeat that reminds us of the heartbeat of Mother Earth. If we talk about our journeys, we do it in First Person, as though it were happening right then. That is also how we talk about our dreams. For me, the non-ordinary shamanic world of dreams, visions, of learning from animal guides and angels or spirit teachers is just as real as the ordinary reality of this solid world. Mother calls it the integration of body, mind and soul. The time of “split-apart” is done and the time of healing, of integration is at hand. I am glad to have come to a family that knows these teachings.
Each year one of the artists among us designs a t-shirt. I enjoy wearing and seeing my family wear our shirts all year long because each one helps me remember things that happen that year ~ some things that were unique to a particular Gathering, other things that hold the sacred memory of the whole Sweet Medicine Circles ~ their rituals and renewal.
Over the years the Women’s Bundle and the Men’s Bundle have been made in separate meetings. There is a Keeper of each Bundle who is responsible for seeing that it gets safely to the next Gathering. In separate meetings, the men or women open their particular Bundle, items are added from the women or men attending, and then it is re-tied and brought to the Sweet Medicine Dance where people can dance with or honor the energy of the Male or Female Bundle.
If people try to understand this with their minds, they become lost. It is with the heart that much of the Gathering of Circles can be understood. It is not an intellectual event, though much knowledge is exchanged, casually and in classes or workshops. The power of Gathering is in what is felt, in the actions of one villager toward another. It is a way to practice for a few days, the world that is to come, and the world that may have been.
People often volunteer to share what they have learned during the year, or something that they are good at and want to do with others. There are always massage therapists at Gathering, like there are always teachers. Once I didn’t feel well, so an Aunt gave me a full body massage, then Uncles and Aunts gathered around me and gave me a “Reiki Treatment” which is very subtle, but very nice. I feel safe there because I know that only appropriate touching will happen at this Village and that I don’t always have to be vigilant about something happening that “invades” me.
Others do workshops for the children: KidShops. We have a KidCircle, a Medicine Wheel for children. We can go into the Sweatlodges, but usually it is so crowded that not many of the children do. We talk about some of the same things in KidCircle, I think, as they do in the Sweatlodges.
We make things to take home or to give to those we admire. Mother was so happy one year when my brother made her a circle of flowers to wear in her hair. She keeps it on our family altar even though it is very dry and brittle. Sometimes there are face-painters before the Dance. I ask for bears, sunflowers and snakes! We go on KidWalks or nature hikes and learn about how to live in harmony with the Earth.
Two sweatlodges are usually built, one for the women and one for the men to use one night. The best one is used later for a co-ed sweat, usually after the Sweet Medicine Dance. In some ways the Dance is the best part of Gathering.
On the morning of the Dance, people finish clearing the medicine wheel circle where we hold our meetings. During the year much deadfall appears and many critters utilize the ground we leave soft and clear, so there is much to attend to. Enough firewood is collected to last for five or six hours. It burns in the center of the circle that night. Entrances are made beautiful. Sometimes there are flags for the colors of the four directions.
There are drumming auditions for those who have not drummed before who must pass a concentration test. There are three people drumming continuously for the hours of the dance. The beauty of the constant beat is part of what makes the “sweet medicine.” Before the auditions started, anyone could drum, but it is nicer to dance when the drumming is smooth like a heartbeat. The joy of getting to drum has given way to the beauty of the dance. I have been taught that there is a balance in all things. I see that balance in how the community worked out the dog problem, and loud music problem, and the drum problem.
The “Sweet Medicine Dance” and the “Give-Away” and potluck Feast before we leave are other traditions that carry from Gathering to Gathering.
We bring a gift wrapped plainly (usually in a paperbag) to the last Circle. I have been taught that my gift should be something of significance or “meaningful” to me, something that I am ready to release, either because I have “finished my work with it” and am ready to send its healing energy on to a new keeper, or because it is something special that I am ready to share with someone else. I like that the give-a-way doesn’t have anything to do with money, that it’s the heart-value that is important. I have been taught to listen to my heart and to give what seems right. Once Mother’s hair had the camping blues and she wished for a hat to cover it. A young boy who had never been to Gathering before put his Olympics cap on the blanket. Mother hoped no one else would choose it. She still loves that cap! I remember of that as I place my give-a-way on a special blanket in the center of the Closing Circle.
Usually the first person to choose from the give-a-way blanket is the one who has the longest drive from the mountains and will have to leave earliest. As people participate in The Give-A-Way, they take back their talisman from the Talking Stick, knowing that it will remind them for the next year of experiences they associate with this year’s Gathering. The first person takes the Talking Stick, removes the talisman tied there on arrival, chooses a random package, and talks about what that one has experience at this Gathering.
When the first person has chosen and opened the first gift, the next person to choose is the one who gave the gift. It seems like it creates a special bond between me and the person who receives my give-a-way and me and the person whose give-a-way I receive. I have chosen give-a-ways from people who only came once to Gathering, but will remain in my memories always because I have something they treasured.
Sometimes people are so glad to be in a safe place that they give-a-way their tears to the group in thanksgiving. Sometimes it is the first time I have heard someone talk before a group. Sometimes those who have talked a lot during meetings just smile and shrug and I know that they are too full of caring to talk any more.
It is in the give-a-way that I am reminded that the Gathering was conceived as a healing time ~ for healing from the fast-moving outside world’s demands, for healing broken friendships, for healing from old inner damage that needs action, not just words, to heal. In a way it is a gathering of healers who practice the sweet medicine of hope for building a better world. I hope to bring my own children to Gatherings some day.
In Beauty, I Finish.
About Mother Victoria’s ChapBook Series
From Western Europe in the early 1500’s to the young colonies of America, chapbooks were the literature available to the working class. “Chapmen” or traveling peddlers took the
16- to 70-page pamphlets with the needles, bolts of cloth, iron pots and mirrors into the wilderness to connect those pioneer adventurers with “home,” where they were sold on the streets or in small bookshops. Songs & ballads, poems & short novels, fairy tales & myths, stories of heroes & martyrs, saints & sinners, historical narratives, travel tales, and religious tracts were among the messages they contained. The earliest English examples are translations of 15th-century French writings. By the early 1800’s, chapbooks had given way to what became today’s newspapers and magazines.
I offer my own version of millennial ChapBooks as a traveling peddler over the World Wide Web and through Deep River Press. Each ChapBook is a limited edition of 500 ~ numbered, signed & illustrated. Please write or e-mail for a current list of available titles: firstname.lastname@example.org
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