I see the amulets first. Hand-crafted neck pieces made of leather, bone or hammered metal. Usually there are beads. Gemstones that glint in the sun. They drape the breastbone and they are large. I notice them from a distance on the trail around Mato Tipila, Bear Lodge, worn by old men who come to pay their respects to the sacred monolith. To pray.
With no exceptions, their medicine stops me in my tracks.
I comment and admire. Before long I have learned that one creator is Iroquois from New York; another is Dine' (Navajo) from New Mexico. None, thus far, are from the twenty-six tribes who come frequently to do ceremony, sweats or vision quests.
So it was I was walking down the hill from the Tower last week, completing my guided tour around the base. A part of that walk is a presentation on the brightly colored prayer bundles that hang from ponderosa, aspen and oak trees at the foot of the tower. Deeply touching, the bundles consist of objects sacred to the beholder. They are the physical manifestation of their prayers, wrapped in long scarf-like cloths. The chosen colors are significant, usually one of the four colors of the medicine wheel: black, white, yellow or red. Occasionally they will be blue or green. Blue for the sky; green for the earth. Four colors for the four directions, four seasons, four elements (air, earth, fire and water). Native culture revolves around the number four. I often point out to my captive tour audience that I never see the prayer bundles actually being placed. They appear and disappear like magic, part of their allure. I was about thirty minutes out from saying that when I saw him. Or rather, I saw the crescent moon amulet around his neck.
He motioned me over. It wasn't until I was standing next to his large frame that I noticed his cane. In his left hand he held three good-sized prayer bundles: red, black and green. "I can't make it up the hill," he said. "My knees are too old. I wonder if you'd hang these in a tree at the base of the rock?" I was so surprised, so deeply moved, I could barely utter yes. He handed me a sprig of sage and instructed me to put it behind my ear, "So Spirit will know your intentions are good."
I introduced myself; clasped his leathery hand and told him I'd be honored. He said his name was Four Thunders. He was Comanche and had traveled from Oklahoma.
I asked if there was a particular place or direction he wanted me to place them. He said no, wherever I could go would be fine and handed me the bundles. I looked from them and into his eyes as he told me the significance of two. Green, prayers for Mother Earth, that she be protected. Red, he prayed, that his family would continue on the Red path.
He handed me the bundles and reminded me again of the sage.
I chose a spot that looked onto the west side of Mato Tipila. West for the direction black, the color of the third bundle. I tied them to a ponderosa tree, far off the beaten path, where aspen flickered in the sun. I sat a bit on a rock and watched the colors sway in the breeze. Pondered the timing of this auspicious deed.
I looked for Four Thunders when I returned to the parking lot. My eyes sought him out on benches. There was so much more to say, but he was gone.
Since that day I have picked a piece of sage, put it behind my ear beneath the stiff Park Service hat and returned to sit by the bundles. There's a reassuring feeling there. A querencia-like peace removed from the throngs of visitors.
I have queried two medicine people, one Lakota, one Cheyenne, for their views of the upcoming full moon solar eclipse next Monday. Their answers speak of intense change; the tension of new birth; an alignment of energy that will transform. Pipe Carriers will be in ceremony to assist a rebirth. "When things line up like this it signals connection." A cosmic download.
Four Thunders' visit corresponded with the first eclipse of this month. It occurred on the heels of a dream where a gigantic tornado picked up my house, twirled it around in the sky, and set it down in a new location; no one hurt, nothing destroyed.
I can not begin to fathom the confluence of Mato Tipila and Monday's disappearance of the sun. The deafening silence, the eons old echo of souls. That black bundle just might symbolize the darkness of a birth canal. It might be good to make an amulet. Perhaps a prayer bundle or two.
Christina is winding up her position as a summer seasonal NPS Interpretive Ranger at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
|Luna and Mato Tipila|