Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Valley of Spirit

She felt the night approaching and something on the air whispered it was to be a special one. Turning to the west at the top of the bluff, Walking Wolf Woman's face relaxed into a smile at the beauty of the setting sun beyond the Great Mountains. It was always good to stop and give thanks for the day's blessings, though her pause was not long. Her spirit guides told her to reach the valley floor below her before dark. There was to be more to this night, she felt it in the centre of her being.

The world was in shadows and stars began to dot the sky by the time her downward climb eased into a gentle slope before the tree-line of the valley. Her keen eyes picked out the path and her strong legs kept up a steady pace through the long grass. She had grown to firm womanhood over the trails that had been walked thus far on her quest, the quest for a crystal flower and immortality. Walking Wolf Woman felt her way through the trees and was thankful when she emerged on the banks of a small river. Her ears told her that the water moved swiftly but not angrily.

Tis seemed to be a good place to make camp for the night, so she dropped her pack and felt the soft grass that would be her bed. She gathered some wood from the river bank in the little light from the half-moon. She felt again the warmth in the centre of her being and anticipated a visit from her beloved teacher, Woman of the Desert.

She felt more than heard the form swooping down on her from above and dropped to the ground, her heart pounding in her chest. Her skin tingled in fear as she was attacked a second time. She struggled to hold onto her kindling as she rolled away from the deadly claws raking at her back, through her buckskin dress.

With an eerie cry, the creature flew up into the trees and Walking Wolf Woman scrambled back to where she had dropped her pack. With trembling hands she began to build a fire as fast as possible, praying to the Great Spirit for the defense of flame against whatever this creature was.

I seemed to take forever for a spark to catch and she kept close to the ground, scared and vulnerable. At last, a spark from the flint caught and small flames reached up to protect her with their light and warmth. Her breath came in short, shallow pants when, once again, she heard the throaty call of the hunter and dimly saw its dark shape in a tree on the edge of her circle of light. To calm herself, she concentrated on the circle and made it her Medicine Wheel. She slowly moved to the opposite side of the fire from the creature and noted that she now faced north, place of wisdom and wise counsel.

The creature did not move, and neither did Walking Wolf Woman. below her pounding heart, she felt the heat of her spirit being contacted. She had trusted this same contact that had guided her so far, here to this place. She decided, despite her fears, to continue in this trust and so addressed the creature.

Greetings winged one. I am Walking Wolf Woman. I come to your valley in peace as I make my quest for the key to the Spirit-Life. I mean you no harm and would ask your counsel." In her heart she hoped to be understood as she closed her eyes in prayer for protection and guidance. When she again opened them, her breath caught high in her throat as Owl Woman took her place in the circle of light, next to the fire.

Her eyes were large and the colour of the flames they reflected. They were eyes that could see into your soul and Walking Wolf Woman could not look there long. Owl Woman's headdress was mottled brown feathers and rose in points from her temples like horns. Her head sat easily off her shoulders and moved with a fluid grace as Owl Woman surveyed all. She wore a long robe and shawl of hides, sewn with beads and feathers, covered in front by a breastplate of amber beads, bone and feathers. It reached to the ground as Owl Woman sat in the north of Walking Wolf Woman's Medicine Wheel.

In her wonder at the beauty and power of this vision, Walking wolf Woman raised her hands, palms up, in supplication and gratitude, then reached into her pack for some sage to burn. It was a night for ceremony and learning...and she was eager for both.

"I have heard of your quest," said Owl Woman, her voice shimmering from the back of her throat, "I am here to give you counsel and to witness your passing." Owl woman's head tilted, though her eyes stayed locked on the young woman across the fire as she continued, "Your quest begans in the fear of the unknown, but there is not shame in that. Fear is a common motivator. It is how you react to what frightens you that sets your path. You are facing your fear now, as you seek, accepting the holiness of your quest and the guidance of the spirits. My counsel to you is to keep your vision through the darkness. Look for the lessons each day, with your heart and belly, for that movement sees more clearly than your eyes. Trust them to guide you, for between them, you will hear the will of the Great Spirit. I bring to you this Medicine." With that, she stretched out her arms, and her shawl became wings, lifting her back to the shadows of the trees. Walking Wolf Woman closed her eyes and thanked Owl Woman for the gift of her counsel.

She spent some time in quiet meditation, walking backwards through her journey to its beginning, at the fir of Woman of the Desert. She was a frightened young fawn then, but she was given courage in the purpose of her quest and the warmth of her spirit-connections with her beloved teachers. That was the beginning of her trust in guidance from that place within that holds the spark given by the Great Spirit...Parent, Friend, Teacher of the People....her trust in the movement of the Great Mystery. She would keep her vision through whatever sacred darkness and trust the balance of her inner Medicine Wheel.

She was brought back to her campfire by the sensation of being watched and opened her eyes, expecting to see Owl Woman again, or Woman of the Desert. No. Instead she looked into the eyes of Brother Lynx. His pale yellow-green eyes searched, not for your soul but for the out-of-the-way corners, where your secrets hide. He sat, draped in his silver fur robe, in the west of the Medicine Wheel, place of introspection. He sat and stared at Walking Wolf Woman in silence until she began to feel hypnotised, his face becoming larger than life and filling her vision. A low growl rumbled from his chest and, within it, she heard these words.

Greetings sister. I am Lynx, knower of secrets. I see the fears, lies, hope and dreams of others in their hiding places. I come here to give you counsel, and to witness your passing. My counsel to you is to observe quietly the secrets hidden in others. Watch, listen, and help other to open themselves to their own quests. This Medicine I bring to you."

With that, Brother Lynx bounded out of the circle of light and Walking Wolf Woman was once again alone. She began to sing a song of thanks into the night, feeling humbled by this gift of vision. As she sang, she reflected on the responsibility that came with this gift. She had not thought before about the possibility of teaching, but it made sense to return some of what she had received by guiding others.

She remembered being in the camp of the Apache, people she had been taught to hate before she lived in their midst. As she learned to shed her prejudice, she had also taught them to shed theirs by example. This then was part of the circle and cycles. She had always been given what she needed to continue her quest and now it was up to her to observe and help others, where she could. This she pledged to do.

When she again opened her eyes the first rays of dawn were fingering their way into the valley. The ashes of her fire were cold but the centre of her being remained warm with her visions. But, if she wanted fresh fish to break her fast, she would have to gather more wood and start another fire before going into the river. She rose and began to search for more kindling. Suddenly a light in the bushes along the banks of the river caused her to drop her bundle with a cry. In the early morning sunlight gleamed her crystal flower, the end of her search!

She ran to the rainbow light and dropped to her knees in tears to find that it was not the magical flower she had hoped for...only the morning dew caught in the web of a spider, reflecting the climbing sun.

Walking Wolf Woman swallowed her disappointment and determined that this too must hold a lesson for her. She sat still and observed the spider in her web, looking for her secret.

"Greetings sister," came the tiny voice from the spider, "I too know of your quest and called you over to the east of your Medicine Wheel, place of illumination, to give you counsel and to witness your passing. Observe my body, eternity's symbol. Watch me weave my web of life and notice how all the points connect. You are a part of the eternal plan. Weave, create, touch all points at once. I cannot give you your crystal flower but, within my web, you could find its simple secret. Weave your own answer. This Medicine I bring to you."

A fly became entrapped in the web and Spider hurried to wrap it for a later meal, no longer interested in her student. Walking Wolf Woman arose, confused, and began stiffly to prepare her fire and catch her meal. She struggled to understand the lesson from Spider but the illusion of the crystal flower had shaken her. It was all too much and she was exhausted from her extraordinary night. After cleaning up she stretched out on the grass and tried to sleep. At first she tossed and turned, trying to decipher Spider's message but a gentle breeze caressed her face and her thoughts began to still.

A voice sang in her ear, a voice like the wind over sand, and tiny claw-like hands gently brushed back her hair.

"Daughter," the voice sang, "You have observed and absorbed much in the night and I am proud of you. Remember, if the answer is not simple, it is not the answer. You will know and understand all in an instant when it is time. There are still many steps for you to walk and many adventures for you to have, as student and teacher. The Great Spirit has infinite patience and, somewhere, your crystal flower awaits. Look up now and watch Eagle in her spiral flight of Spirit. Faith is the wind that lifts her. Faith is the wind that carries us all. Whenever you are confused let Faith lift your wings to the Great Spirit and leave your troubles there."

Walking Wolf Woman felt a peace settle on her as she heard these words and watched Sister Eagle do her wondrous dance of Faith. Soon she would move on to her next adventure but for now sleep claimed her and a deep magic stilled all in the Valley of Spirit.

Woman Spirit

The warm afternoon sun pulled her westward over the rough terrain as she searched for the crystal flower. She felt tired and heavy in her movements but still, Walking Wolf Woman was determined to reach the outcropping of rocks she saw in the distance before resting. She had felt pulled since first seeing their outline on the horizon. It was a pull low in her belly and she felt it as strongly as the heat in the centre of her being when Woman of the Desert laid her hands there. By the time she reached the rocks, the sun hung low in the western sky and the red earth seemed to catch fire from it. The young woman stopped gratefully and began to rub the ache of the pace from her legs. It was then she saw the blood on her thighs and realised that she was beginning her moontime.

This was a sacred time and the centre of Walking Wolf Woman's being glowed warm. This was the time to connect with the Mother and give back to her the very blood of life. This was the time to pray and give honour to the Woman Spirit. Quickly the maiden's eyes scanned the ground for a tool. She picked up a small, flat rock, weighing it in her palm. Now she looked for a spot and chose the top of a pebbly slope to scoop out the hollow, just large enough to sit cross-legged in. Next, she gathered some grasses which she used to line her den, in preparation for her vigil.

When she was satisfied that all was ready, she hiked up her shift and sat within the cushioned and savoury cup. She faced into the late sun, looking down the slope and across the layered vista spread before her. Gold, grey, tan, and red eras piled politely on one another, in sculptures that sat atop the ochre earth. Here and there, patches of green gave moisture to her eyes. The high wisps of clouds shone golden against an aqua sky. Behind her, more layers of rocks caught the warmth of the sun and reflected onto her back. Basking in the light, she gave honour for the day, thanking the Creator for the gift of life, her eyes tearing with the beauty before her.

A low rumble from below and behind caused her to turn...and her mouth dropped open with surprise and awe! What had, moments before, been a tumble of rocks...was now in the shape of a seated, heavy-breasted woman! The slope was her skirt and Walking Wolf Woman realised that she was sitting securely in the Earth Mother's lap. She gazed up at the smiling square face, which looked back with so much love that Walking Wolf Woman felt no fear.

"Greetings Little Mother," rumbled Earth Woman, her chunky red braids vibrating on her chest, "I am here to witness your passing and to speak to you of Earth and the cycle of life. Let the blood flow freely from your womb, back to the earth that gave you life and be one with the Woman Medicine of Giving. As the Circle moves, so do you move within the giving and receiving. Woman is reminded to reflect regularly on this with her moontime, and to cleanse in preparation for life."

Earth Woman bent her pitted face down closer to the young woman and blinked her eyes slowly.

"This Medicine I bring to you...and this medicine you bring to me," she said, drawing her red and grey blanket around her, becoming once again a tumble of rocks.

Walking Wolf Woman exhaled slowly and turned again to the west. Only a tiny part of the sun's liquid gold remained atop the horizon. It flashed the promise of another day before disappearing beneath the blood-red sky. Soon she became wrapped in night's starry blanket, shivering just a little at the touch of the air and the magic it held within. The stars seemed to dance around her head, looking like a million crystal flowers, vibrant and alive. It was a million messages of hope for her. She would find this wondrous flower...and life would forever flow through her. She would be living proof of the Creator's love, and never would she have to bid goodbye to the beauty of Creation. She dedicated herself again, here in the lap of the Earth Mother, and gave her promise to use her moontime to reflect on the Circle of giving and receiving.

The crescent moon began to rise, over her left shoulder. She watched its slow, graceful arc...the Celestial Smile. As she stared, the moon came before her, growing larger as it drew closer. She was able to see a woman within. She was waxing, slender and young, like the maiden in the hollow. Moon Woman glowed from within her transparent skin. Walking Wolf Woman squinted in the light, to try and see her more clearly. Her braids were long, thin, and yellow. Her eyes matched the quicksilver that threaded through the blanket draped loosely around her shoulders. Her stare made a pulling feeling begin within the young, human woman's belly.

"Greetings Little Mother," said Moon Woman, her voice bubbling like a spring, "I am here to witness your passing and to speak to you of Water and movement. It is I who call the water's movement, both on the earth and within your body. In your reflections, after you have honoured the life given to you by Earth Woman, I pull you to look up, feel, and dream. So we begin the rising spiral of movement, each sharing the tidal ebb and flow. This Medicine I bring to you."

Moon Woman's light became so bright that Walking Wolf Woman had to close her eyes for a moment, and when she again opened them, the moon hung small and low in the southwestern sky. Tears began to fall from her eyes, as she was carried within a tidal wave of feelings, allowing herself to go with the movement. It was as if she watched safely from a still centre within...and yet, outside of herself. Day began to break and she gave thanks for the powerful lessons of Earth and Water before rising to gather fresh grasses to line her den. When it was done she again sat to watch, listen, and wait.

It was a long day but a peaceful one. The girl allowed her thoughts and heart to lead her many places. In the late afternoon she felt the electricity of a storm coming. She watched the towering, powerful clouds approach with flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder. The hairs on her body rose to the charge in the air. A white finger of lightning shot to the earth close by, striking a tall, upturned cactus. It exploded into flames and changed before Walking Wolf Woman's eyes, into a woman of fire. She was masculine-looking woman, tall and muscular, with loose, charred-black hair. A blanket of fire hung from her outstretched arms, and her robe within danced with threads of gold.

"Greetings Little Mother," Fire Woman's voice was low and resonant, "I am here to witness your passing and to speak to you of Fire and purpose. When you have ridden Moon Woman's oceans of emotions and dreams, the spiral must continue to move. The flame within must be lighted with purpose. It must burn outward with the action, before its warmth can be gathered. Within movement must be balance, inner to outer, female to male, receiving and giving. This Medicine I bring to you," and she was gone, as the cactus fell apart in a final burst of flame.

The storm passed and, in its wake, winds began to howl a furious song. The young woman's long hair began to whip around her face and stung her eyes. She gathered as much of it as she could in one hand and shielded her eyes with the other. When she was able to look up again, there was a mighty funnel of wind and debris to the northwest. Within the funnel appeared a woman. Her grey cloud-blanket wrapped tight around her, she rose before Walking Wolf Woman. Her long white braids danced all around her, decorated with rocks, sage and feathers. Her body undulated beneath rolled blanket, as her gaze fixed on the young woman.

"Greetings Little Mother," said a voice like a whisper in the centre of the girl's head. She knew the Air Woman spoke, though her white lips never moved, "I am here to witness your passing, to speak to you of Air and your song. A soul wants to cry out that it is here, so the Great Spirit will know us. The Creator hears through all our ears, so we must listen to the songs of others, as well as offer our own. Listen to what is carried on the wind, for it is the song of Spirit and the truth of Creation. After movement has been started, gathered, given purpose, and balanced, it must be shared on the Medicine Wheel, so that it may also move and grow. Listen, find your song. This Medicine I bring to you."

The wind kicked-up again and Walking Wolf Woman heard within it song after song, through the dusk and into the night. When finally it quieted, she lifted her head from behind her knees and sat cross-legged once again. The night was still and crystal clear. She began to sing her own song and her high, sweet voice lifted on the air, carrying forever into the jeweled night. Four baskets appeared above her head and began to dance around her in a circle. Each one contained one of the four elements...Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. On and on the young woman sang, until it became the third day, and she bled no more. The rising sun warmed her back as she headed west, once more on her quest, walking now with Woman Spirit.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The First Test

With a sharp intake of breath, the young girl recognized the signs painted on the rock at her feet. The told her she had come to the hunting area of a fierce tribe, long hated by her people. She remembered stories at her mother’s knee when she was a babe, stories of warriors who ate children, stories that made sure she did not wander far from camp.

What was she to do now? The sun had begun to sink behind the stark rocks to the west, turning the earth to fire for a moment and soon the darkness would claim its right. The girl shivered and finally moved to squat herself in the bushes, seeking their protective graces. The moon had completed one cycle since she had left the old Spirit Woman’s fire, on her quest for the crystal flower. In that time, Nature had been the teacher, heightening her senses. She had learned to take from the earth for her survival and to pay the proper honour and respect for the Mother’s gifts.

The time had been lonely for her and she had longed to come upon a camp of the People, just not this one! She wondered with a shudder if she would still be considered small and tender to a warrior’s eye. The night seemed to menace her with tricks of the moonlight but she could not risk a fire, lest she lead the enemy to her. Tears began to slide down the young girl’s face.

“Spirit-Mother, have you then sent me here to die as my lesson? I cannot believe that and I beg you to help me now.”

No sooner did she say those words, than she felt the warmth begin in the center of her being. The air became charged with magic and the smell of sweet herbs soothed her mind.

“Greetings child. I have been waiting for you to call upon me.”

The girl turned in astonishment to see Woman of the Desert come from the other side of the bushes. Astonishment did not hold her long though, and relief sent her running from her hiding spot to the arms of her beloved teacher. The old woman’s white, ankle-length braids seemed to cast an aura of protective light around them both and a new strength filled the young girl. Staying in her warm embrace, the girl asked her teacher how she should pass through this area without falling captive to the warriors.

“Daughter, I have brought you here to learn a great lesson. You are to walk into the camp of these people, live with them for the turning of the seasons, and when I return it will be time for you to continue your quest.”

At the suggestion of living with her enemies, the young girl again became frightened and she moved away slightly from the old woman’s embrace.

“Do not be afraid child. Trust me and you will be protected,” said Woman of the Desert. She reached into the folds of her robe with her tiny talon hands and brought out an exquisite necklace of turquoise and silver, which she fastened around the young girl’s neck. As she did so, she began to give instructions to the child and, when she was content that she had been fully understood, she stroked the girl’s hair and sang to her soothing songs of the Medicine Wheel.

Daylight tickled its way into the girl’s eyes and she awoke from a peaceful night’s sleep, to find herself curled up in the bushes, alone. She sat up, rubbing the night’s magic from her eyes, wondering if it had all been a dream. The weight of the turquoise at her throat assured her that the visit from her teacher had been real. On the ground in front of her was a bag made from deerskin full, upon opening, of fry-bread and tart berries to nourish and give her strength for the task ahead.

After greeting the Seven Directions and breaking her fast, she tied the bag around her shoulders and began to walk in the direction she had been told, her heart beating quickly but steady, with sense of purpose. She remembered her teacher’s instructions and straightened her shoulders.

The morning sun was already warm and turned the horizon into shimmering visions of water, a deadly vision to believe in and follow when in the desert. When she thirsted, the girl cut a piece from a cactus with her knife and chewed the heart for its life-giving moisture. A rattlesnake slithered across her path, paying her no mind as it searched for the coolness of a rock to escape the heat, building as the sun rose to its seat of power.

She turned back to the path…and gasped with fright as she came face-to-face with three young braves, their knives drawn. Summoning all her will to keep her hands from trembling, she signed to them that she came in peace and wanted to be taken to their tribe. The tallest of the young men bared his teeth in a half smile, half snarl and gestured for the frightened girl to come with them. They flanked her with their knives still drawn and in silence the four walked on.

As they entered the camp, they became surrounded by what seemed to be the entire village. She shrank back from their hostile stares. Men, women and children closed in around this strange girl who had dared to come into their midst. A shout came from the back of the crowd and the sea of people opened to allow their chief to step forward. He was a large, powerful warrior, with eyes as piercing as stabs of sunlight. The young girl took a deep breath, held her head high and forced herself to look steadily ahead.

With a sign language common to all the People of the Medicine Wheel, she told the chief that she had been sent to this camp by Woman of the Desert, as the first test in her quest for the crystal flower. Remembering her instructions clearly, though her heart pounded with fear, she asked to be taken to Woman Who Heals and held forward the turquoise necklace as her proof of purpose.

The chief stared at the central turquoise stone in silence for what seemed like an eternity to the girl. He then turned to one of the braves who had brought her to the camp, spoke a few words to him in the Apache tongue, and walked away with no backward glance.

The brave gestured that she was to follow him, leading her to a wickiup on the edge of camp. As she walked she felt the stares of the people and in her thoughts, hated them. She entered the wickiup, thankful to be away from all those eyes and grim faces. She was alone.

“I am a prisoner of my enemies. I saw the hatred and suspicion in their eyes. Oh Spirit-Mother, why have you sent me here?” With a sob she sank to the ground and hid her face in her hands. In seeking to outwit Death, she had been delivered to the Grim One’s door.

So absorbed was she in her fear, she did not hear the woman enter. She felt a gentle touch on her arm and parted her hands to see. Her eyes became locked in the warm brown welcome of the eyes of Woman Who Heals. She was a tall, muscular woman who carried an air of capability and strength. Her only signs of age were lines of laughter around her mouth and eyes and, here and there, strands of silver danced their way through tightly woven braids. She wore a white buckskin robe, decorated with elaborate beadwork and, around her neck hung a silver and turquoise necklace, sister to the one given to the young girl by Woman of the Desert. The girl sat up and with trembling hands took the turquoise from her throat, handing it to the older woman.

“I bring you greetings from Woman of the Desert,” recited the girl, as per her instructions, “She has sent me here to you, with her own necklace as token, to study the art of healing under your guidance.”

The older woman leaned back on her heels and listened patiently to the young girl’s story of her relationship with Woman of the Desert…and her quest for the crystal flower, immortality. Every once in a while she smiled as she fingered the turquoise in her hand, but not once did she interrupt the child. When the tale was finished, Woman Who Heals leaned forward, embraced the girl and once again fastened the necklace at her throat.

“You are the daughter of my sister and, for the turning of the seasons, you will share my wickiup as the daughter of my heart,” said Woman Who Heals, in a voice deep and rich, “Come.”

The young girl obediently followed and for a full cycle of the seasons lived as an Apache daughter. She learned much from Woman Who Heals. In time, she became accepted by the tribe as one of their own. As she settled into the life of these people, she began to shed her own prejudice, seeing the similarities of all the People, instead of their differences.

When the season of Little Eagles again returned, a feast was held to celebrate. She was dressed by Woman Who Heals in a new buckskin robe and her hair was carefully braided. She joined with other girls in the rites of womanhood. Babies were brought to them to be blessed and the sick were brought to be healed.

After the festivities, the young woman and Woman Who Heals walked into the desert together. The older woman drew a Medicine Wheel in the sand and began to chant in her rich, deep voice. The young woman felt the familiar warmth begin at the centre of her being. She was not surprised to hear a voice like the wind over sand join in, as Woman of the Desert walked to her place in the Circle. The three women came together to embrace and it was as if life became suspended in that moment of loving magic.

“Daughter, I am pleased that you have passed this first test. My sister, Woman Who Heals, tells me you have learned well, the art of healing and, more importantly, you have overcome your feelings of prejudice.”

The young woman smiled, remembering her hatred of the Apache people, born out of the fear of not knowing their ways.

“I know now that we are all the same children of our Mother Earth and Father Sky. Prejudice and hate come from a fear that we ourselves create,” she said softly.

The two older women smiled and nodded their heads in accord. They came close to the young woman and both placed their hands on the center of her being. She gasped with the love and strength that flowed anew within her. In her mind’s eye she saw again the crystal flower, with its rainbows of light shooting out into the darkness and she did not doubt that she would fulfill her quest. As she opened her eyes, light from the new day began to creep over the horizon and she discovered that she was alone. The wind caressed her…and she heard the parting words of Woman of the Desert carried within it.

“Daughter, we am always with you. You have but to turn within to find us. Your walk will take you through many lands and to many relations as you seek the path to the Creator. You have requested the greatest teaching of the Medicine Wheel. For this, you are named, Walking Wolf Woman.”