"Yet taught by time, my heart has learn'd to glow for others' good, and melt at others' woe."
- Odysseus via Homer
Day 198 - Saturday, January 6, 1996 - Today is the feast of Epiphany, an annual marker for spiritual realization.
Ancient liturgies—enacted long before formal Christianity crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Turtle Island —used Latin to name the concepts associated with Epiphany: Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio. Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration. Each year Epiphany holds potential for a shining forth.
At Epiphany we have an opportunity to honor the arrival of the three wise ancestors, who have been following a luminous, sparkling star in the east on a pilgrimage to meet the great soul who has taken human form.
The elders arrive at the stable where the infant Emmanuel lies in swaddling clothes. They come in respect and humility, bearing gifts of myrrh, gold and frankincense -- symbols of all that humanity has attained through evolution until the time of this child’s birth, as Evelyn Francis Derry put it in her book, The Christian Year. This is a moment of realization.
Yet Epiphany also marks the anointing of the 30-year old Jesus by John the Baptist. This is the day when the Christ Spirit is said to have first entered fully into the being of a human—the time when the infant who was born with the returning light has matured to fulfill his destiny—another moment of realization.
At Epiphany the mature man, Jesus, becomes identified with the living spirit. He incarnates the Christ light, and initiates a three-year pilgrimage in the Middle East to proclaim that the same holy thing he has done, everyone can do. 'Follow me,' he says. 'Even greater things can you do.
At sunset, Epiphany will be over and this cycle of Light Festival will be complete.
In the pre-dawn darkness, we all shuttled to the outskirts of Parker, Arizona, gathering by the side side the desert road so we could begin our prayer walk into town with the Sun.
When the rose-hued petals of awakening sky gave way to the Sun's iridescent gold, we were illuminated. We saw light on the roadway west, the start of another magnificent, clear-skied day.
We began together. In a long line we walked the final miles in unison into the heart of Parker, bearing eagle staff, penants and drums.
We created an web of interweaving rhythms with our array of drums, and we chanted in the morning light of Epiphany, walking long stretches of desert highway in silence. We were of mind, one heart, one spirit.
|Epiphany morning - At sunrise the Sunbow 5 pilgrims make their way toward Parker, Arizona and the Colorado River crossing to California. (Author photo).
Later, Einar Sunde told me that this was the only day on the part of our walk between Oklahoma and Malibu when we all walked together—every last one of us, in one big long, single file. No one left in camp, all on the road in unison.
“Our solidarity and our strength on the walk that day made a deep impression on me,” Einar said.
After walking into Parker easy and strong, we rested. Then we turned and walked together from the heart of town down toward the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) reservation. Eventually we came to the reservation's ceremonial arbor where the people had gathered to sing, pray and dance in support of keeping Ward Valley free of nuclear waste.
Our Sunbow walk was greeted at the entrance to the arbor by two Mojave elders. They welcomed us with the rhythm of their rattles and bowls of sage smudge. They escorted us into the spiritual gathering. We listened while the elders softly sang song after song, accompanied by the easy, sandy shuffle of their shakers.
Shortly after our walk arrived, nine runners came charging into the arbor. They are the Spirit Mountain Runners, and they are just completing a ceremonial run of 50 miles from Spirit Mountain in Nevada to the reservation. Their run is a sacrifice, a prayer, offered up for protection of Ward Valley.
Everyone at the gathering formed a large circle, including walkers and runners. We went round the circle, everyone shaking hands with everyone else.
|Mohave Dancers - move with dignity to the rhythym of the rattles and the song at the spiritual gathering for Ward Valley on Epiphany, 1995. (Author photo)
As the gathering unfolded, several native groups danced, their dances in contrast with one another, yet part of the same fabric of prayer.
Mojave women dancers wearing long skirts swayed in gentle syncopation, while the men rattled softly for them.
(Photo by Zen, courtesy of flcker.com
When the Aztec dancers entered the circle wearing their brilliant plumage and flashing metal ceremonial clothing, the intensity of the event went sky high. The drumming was wild, and the dance steps powerful and impassioned.
When the Aztec dancers rested for a moment, their head man stepped to the microphone. He announced that right now, this weekend, representatives of 67 indigenous nations from all over Mexico and Central America were meeting in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.
They are meeting, he said, to discuss justice and healing, and to further the general, epochal spiritual awakening happening among indigenous peoples all over the world, a phenomenon that, he said, has been going on for years, and would soon reach a crescendo.
Two of our pilgrims from the far north of Canada, Yvette and Ned, led a social dance for everyone from the Innu tradition. The song and the dance were peppy, very different from most of what we had already seen this afternoon.
Ned played the gigantic white-and-red Caribou drum that Yvette had made for her son, Stanley. Ned lifted his voice lively to send all of us Sunbow pilgrims together back and forth and around, again and again, with smiles and laughs and an upbeat whirl.
Later that night, with the Moon rising full in the sign of Leo, we all gathered by the fire in the heart of our camp at the CRIT reservation baseball field.
The field is located next to a stand of cottonwood trees. As the wind blows through them it sounds like running water. The trees rustled pleasantly through the night.
Just after the Sun had set, ending Epiphany and also ending the Christmas Festival, Tom Dostou came to the Sunbow camp. With him came Charlie Commando, Lauren Keahbone and her father, Mark, Vernon Foster, and some other members of the Arizona chapter of AIM.
In the dark they entered the circle, then traveled around the firelit inner perimeter, exchanging greetings and handshakes with everyone.
Vernon Foster spoke first. He introduced himself, saying he was director of the Arizona AIM group, and that we were fortunate to have an elder with us tonight. He was referring to Mark Keahbone, and he then called Mark forward and asked him to offer tobacco to the fire on behalf of everyone.
Mark entered to make his prayer, walking around the fire counter-clockwise. No one said anything, but we were all wondering why he went what in Indian Country is often thought to be a contrary way in ceremony: against the direction of the Sun. Lots of native cultures emphasize that, to maintain the circle in harmony in this hemisphere, one should in most cases move the energy with the Sun, clockwise. Mark had another way.
Celtic tribes had a similar concern about directions, and they spoke of the anti-sun, or counter-clockwise direction, as widdershins. The Celts regarded widdershins as bad medicine, distinctly unlucky, counter to the natural flow.
As far as our group of over 40 Sunbow walkers is concerned, Mark has in no way distinguished himself as a spiritual elder. He is old, we know, and he merits respect for that, but he's earned no further standing with us. We are baffled that he would be pushed forward as a spiritual elder, and that he would enact a tobacco ceremony against the direction of the Sun.
When Mark Keahbone finished his medicine, Tom, Charlie, and Stacey dropped a bombshell. They stepped forward and told our circle that last night, when they were staying in Vernon Foster's home, his house caught fire and burned.
All the people had escaped the building without serious injuries. But the house was badly damaged and many of the medicine bundles that Tom and others had been carrying were consumed in the flames, including the staff that Tom was carrying. Vernon Foster’s medicine pipe was also incinerated.
After escaping himself and then realizing that Vernon’s son was still inside, Charlie rushed back into the burning house and brought the boy out safely. The local newspapers had written Charlie up as a hero.
It was not lost on any of us that this destructive fire happened well over a hundred miles away from our camp right after Vernon—with Tom’s prodding—had threatened to come to our prayer walk with a gang to physically stop us, and to wrest away our staffs, pipes, and medicines.
As we listened we all understood immediately. The reality of it was vivid. We had no need to discuss it.
We all also knew for certain that when we next spoke with Grandfather Commanda, he would encourage us not to forget what had happened among us all, but for everyone to forgive everyone. Grandfather would tell us to be strong, and to find a way to walk together across California to the Western Gate.
Tom stood in the circle tonight with his head bowed. To me, his energy seemed low. He told us that he thought he would walk with our big group some of the time, and then walk with Jim Duncan and family some of the time, going back and forth from one group to another until we all reached the Western Gate north of Santa Barbara. That was his plan, he said.
Copyright 2007 by Steven McFadden
Read Day 199 -- Odyssey of the 8th Fire