Title: Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World
Publisher: Harper San Francisco
Author: Ed McGaa (Eagle Man)
Pages: 230 pp
Price: $15.00 (paperback)
“If the Native Americans keep all their spirituality within their own community, the old wisdom that has performed so well will not be allowed to work its environmental medicine on the world where it is desperately needed.”
So begins Ed McGaa’s Mother Earth Spirituality. Originally published in 1990, this was one of the first books to give detailed instructions for performing Indian ceremonies to non-Indians (rainbow people, in the author’s words). McGaa, or Eagle Man, was born on the Oglala Sioux reservation, and is an enrolled tribal member.
The book’s first few chapters recount the story of how the coming of Buffalo Calf Woman changed the way the Sioux worshipped. “The Sioux were taught and understood that all things are of the Great Spirit. Trees, rivers, mountains, grass, four-legged animals, two-legged animals, and winged creatures all came from the Great Spirit, called Wakan Tanka, who is the Supreme Being,” McGaa explains. “Before the appearance of Buffalo Calf Woman, the Indians honored the Great Spirit. But among the Sioux, the coming of Buffalo Calf Woman brought a most important instrument, the pipe, which is now used in all ceremonies.”
Seven rites, all discussed in the book, use the pipe as taught by Buffalo Calf Woman. These are the Keeping of the Soul; Inipi (the Sweat Lodge Ceremony or Rite of Purification); Hanblecheyapi (Vision Quest); Wiwanyag Wachipi (the Sun Dance Ceremony); Hunkapi (Making Relatives); Ishnata Awicalowan (Preparing a Girl for Womanhood); and Tapa Wanka Yap (Throwing the Ball). McGaa adds that “some of the original rites have undergone transformation and some have been replaced.” He gives examples in all cases.
The Sweat Lodge, the Vision Quest, and the Sun Dance remain important ceremonies, and McGaa devotes multiple chapters to each, describing the traditional way each ceremony is performed, how each is conducted now, and his experiences participating in them. He recounts how he was among those who helped revive the Sun Dance, which had been outlawed (by the whites) for decades. He himself was pierced in the ceremony on four different occasions. He describes exactly how the Medicine Man cut into the dancer’s skin and inserts the peg, and what hurts most. (It is not what most people expect.) This ceremony, where male dancers are pierced and dance while attached to a cottonwood pole representing Mother Earth, is the one ceremony that he insists no one should ever perform on their own.
But if you want to build a Sweat Lodge and conduct a ceremony, the directions are here, from how much space to allow, how to heat the stones, what tools to carry them with, how to honor the six directions, how many times to put water on the stones, how to dress, and what to eat afterwards. Equally detailed directions are given for conducting a Vision Quest (even solo), and carving, curing, and using what has come to be called a Peace Pipe.
I was especially drawn to Chapter 18, “Receiving Your Earth Name and Finding Your Wotai Stone.” An Earth name or natural name is what is often called an Indian name, and Eagle Man (McGaa) sees this as an important way of connecting with the Earth, for both Indians and non-Indians. To facilitate this, the author provides a lengthy list of examples of natural names, and an extensive glossary of Sioux words. I had long wanted a natural name, having dreamed about it several times, and my first reading of this book helped me receive it. And, yes, it is perfectly fine to name yourself.
A wotai stone is a stone that has appeared to you, and ideally you carry it at all times. It doesn’t matter how the stone comes to you, whether you find it, buy it, or receive it as a gift. The wotai stone is often linked in imagery to the natural name.
There is much wisdom is this book, and I have mentioned only a small part of the riches this book holds. Throughout, McGaa states the obvious — that the culture at large has lost its connection with our Earth Mother, and our mindless materialism and overpopulation have wounded her. He believes that resurrecting and enacting these traditional Sioux ceremonies, which are all Earth-based, will put us in closer touch with the lands, waters, animals, plants, and stones. Mitakuye oyasin: We are all related. What befalls one befalls all. Highly recommended.
[Rebecca Bailey, Red Stone Woman (Inyansa Winan) is currently a ranger with the National Park Service. She taught writing for more than a decade at Morehead State University in Kentucky. She has published six books, most recently the poetry collection Meditation Upon the Invisible Ceremony of the Breath (Finishing Line Press). She has recently been published in SageWoman, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Arts Perspective,Canyon Legacy, and Moab Sun News, and lives in Utah and Idaho.]