Walk Softly On Mother Earth. -- sun Bear. ; -- A bumper sticker
SUN BEAR is a 53-year-old Chippewa medicine man who says he has been diS rected by a mystical vision to go public with the lore and knowledge of the native American before it is too late.
Sun Bear and Catawba-Cherokee medicine woman Dhyani Ywahoo, who feels similarly motivated, crisscross the planet, speaking wherever they are "called," of a Mother Earth about to cleanse herself of the polluters, the greedy, the grasping, the "incorrect ways," in a cataclysm that only those versed in old ways will be able to survive, a cataclysm that only a society of peace, brotherhood, mutual respect and cooperation can avert.
As Dhyani Ywahoo puts it, "Now is the time we, as caretakers of life, must speak very clearly . . . "
It was billed as the East Coast Medicine Wheel Gathering at a sprawling camp on 600 wooded acres, high in the mountains where the Hudson River carves deeply into granite hills.
The Medicine Wheel, as old as humanity, say the native Americans, has been adapted by Sun Bear from the original purposes it served in a tribe--as the center of sacred ceremonies and life events--to a grander purpose now: to serve and possibly to save all mankind.
In the past 2 1/2 years, Sun Bear and his acolytes and apprentices have assembled a cadre of native American medicine people--teachers, healers, spiritual advisers and a handful of non-native psychics, doomsayers, herbalists and survivalists--to meet with as many people as possible in weekend retreats. Last weekend's seventh gathering--the first in the East--drew more than 1,000 mostly non-native Americans to the banks of Sylvan Lake.
The site of the gathering was the venerable Workman's Circle Camp, founded in the late 19th century by Jewish Social Democrats as a place for immigrant workers to get away from the sweatshops of the city slums and at the same time further their education. There, under broad-branched oaks and towering pines and red maples and Hebrew-lettered signs and posters, those gathered at the Medicine Wheel heard Indian messages delivered in accordance with the vision of Sun Bear, in accordance with the prophecies of the tribal elders of Dhyani Ywahoo. And they participated in ancient ceremonies, updated by Sun Bear and Wabun, his "principal medicine helper," who used to be a journalist and author from Newark named Marlise James.
Events at the conclave were an mixture of ancient Indian ceremonies and latter-day humanism. There was chanting, dancing and pipe-smoking in the wheel and simultaneous seminars scattered around the camp, all outdoors courtesy of a benevolent sun and a restrained rain spirit. At night as the chill of early autumn crept in, there were more lectures, singing and authentic native American dances. At a nearly round-the-clock outdoor boutique, elaborate colored picture books on Indian life were on sale next to rocks and crystals (for blessing in the medicine wheel) as well as bumper stickers and decals, T-shirts and expensive hand-wrought turquoise-and-silver squash blossom necklaces. There was also the book "The Medicine Wheel," a kind of tribal astrology of the Earth written by Sun Bear and Wabun, and a Bear Tribe newsletter called "Many Smokes."
Some of the seminars:
* Earth Awareness
* Planetary Guidance
* An Herb Walk
* Crystal Consciousness
* Path of Power.
And the dances: Eagle, Corn, Buffalo.
The herb walk included instructions on identifying and choosing herbs for specific purposes -- even the bear, points out Sun Bear, knows which herbs to gather when he wakes from his hibernation. John White, author of "Pole Shift," conducted his seminar on apocalypse-any-minute-now; whether it be by shifting poles, shifting tectonic plates, nuclear holocaust, it can be avoided through international technological cooperation, White indicated, but it better be soon . . .
Is any of this for real?
A growing number of traditional scientists are no longer so ready to dismiss folk medicine or even psychic healing, out-of-hand, as mumbo-jumbo.
New understanding of the electro-chemical links between body and mind tend to give new credence to some eons-old "ceremonies" designed to purge sick and troubled bodies of destructive mind-sets--even if the medicine men call them "evil spirits" and modern-day physicians call them psychosomatic disorders."
The weekend's events were oriented more to spritual healing and ecological awareness, and some of the participants tended to be outside the margins of accepted scientific dogma. Yet many of these healers are now working with mainstream psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians. Hospitals in the southwest bring medicine people to the bedsides of the people from their tribes. Dhyani Ywahoo, who speaks of "focusing power" through quartz crystals has worked with scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
"Look," said a psychologist at the gathering, "you learn something from everything . . ."
Sun Bear was raised on a reservation in White Earth, Minn., and learned the "medicine way" from two uncles. A series of visions--either on so-called "vision quests" or in dreams -- led him to recast the ancient Medicine Wheel concept to make room for non-Indian participants. He established his own tribe, called the Bear Tribe, near Spokane, Wash., where he heads a community of about 25 and where he is now teaching about 22 apprentices to spread his spiritual message.
He is a healer, dealing mainly with the problems of emotional and mental illnesses, he says. He has always known that "90 percent of the illnesses of humanity start in the head," a statistic reaffirmed in the last decade by no less an establishment than the Harvard Medical School. After the gathering Sun Bear would be off to Chicago to conduct a seminar for a group of psychiatrists. Another Medicine Wheel Gathering is being organized for next spring on a 4,000-year-old Indian mound near Athens, Ga.
Sun Bear is also a teacher and now proselytizer of the gentle spiritual path he has devised with Wabun to promote the healing of the Earth itself. Once, he said, "there were 20,000 Medicine Wheels across the continent."
And although the "gathered" were there for many reasons, there was an undercurrent of a deep spiritual hunger for values not readily available in the cities, or in the religions traditional to the backgrounds and upbringings of those present. Some seemed to find something in the messages transmitted in the two afternoons of seminars and in the ceremonies of morning and evening--ceremonies of cleansing and healing and chanting, of tying tobacco sheaves and cleansing with smudge pots.
Hug a tree.
"A pine tree," says Sun Bear, "has a tremendous stabilizing effect on people with a lot of nervous energy.
"Recently the psychiatric community has started using things like this working with disturbed children. Native people feel that everything has a life force in it, and when you can reach out and embrace a tree you can get the energy from it into you and this will help restrengthen your own energy."
Both Sun Bear and Dhyani Ywahoo ask that when they are photographed, the photos be taken near trees.
Some of those who gathered:
* A young (22) audiologist from Canada and her artist husband.
* A part-Indian cab driver from Long Island, his mother and his son.
* An interracial couple of schoolteachers from Brooklyn who were interested in holistic healing.
* A psychologist from Pennsylvania.
* A chiropractor from Georgia.
* A computer technologist from New Jersey.
* A character-actress from Manhattan mainly interested in Indian rights.
* A schoolteacher from New Rochelle, N.Y.
* A "naturepathic" doctor from Spring Lake, N.J. who brought his wife and three children "because we thought it would be a fun weekend for the children to see all the Indians. But where are all the Indians?"
When you ask Slow Turtle if he minds having his picture taken, he grins and says, "That'll cost you a quarter."
Slow Turtle, now the principal medicine man for the Wampanoag Nation and executive director (as John Peters) of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs, is deeply involved in his peoples' claims against large residential and resort areas around Cape Cod, claims against a series of perceived treaty violations, claims that have already produced much consternation and clouded titles on some very exclusive Massachusetts property. (The Wampanoags were the Indians who greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.)
He is another healer who works with traditional psychotherapists.
"After all," said psychologist Warren Wagner, who works in executive training in Allentown, Pa., "the Indian respects and understands the powers of the mind. The unconscious mind is the smart one. It's all a matter of getting past the conscious mind. Their practices are outgrowths of centuries, of thousands of years of finding out what works."
"The visions," said Sun Bear, "told me that the time would come when people would have to turn back to a sense of balance, of harmony with each other and the Earth in order to survive, and I knew that the native prophecies spoke of a time when men, after they'd gone so far from the way of the creator, that they would look to the native American people for their direction. Because look, these people lived here for thousands of years and the planet was beautiful, and now we are about to destroy it . . . "
Dhyani Ywahoo, Catawba-Cherokee, has a similar message. "At this time," she says, "the Earth is borrowing the life force -- the clean waters, the clean air -- from children to come. In the Indian mind, you think of what your actions will mean for seven generations down the road, so this is a time of great choice -- to live again as whole people." Or, she says, "If the nations are not willing to come to the mind of conciliation, seeing the parts as a whole in a non-antagonistic way, then the elements will destroy this planet."
She is a slight woman with an extraordinarily sweet smile and a tangible presence. She speaks very softly, with an indefinable accent, and seems very young, very vulnerable. In fact, she declines to tell her age, only that "I am a grandmother." She is a passionate spokesman on behalf of the rights of native Americans and the injustices done them in the past--and of the misconceptions about them disseminated in western histories. "Now scientists are beginning to understand and accept these as errors," she says gently. "We've always said, for example, that we didn't come across the Bering Strait. We've always been here. And the Cherokees have always had a few people with hazel eyes . . . " She laughs. Dhyani Ywahoo's irises are green/hazel rimmed in dark brown."Our genealogy," she continues, "goes back over 100,000 years in North America. I had to memorize it all as a child . . . "
She found no anomaly in her surroundings or in the coincidence of the gathering and the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Her own grandparents, she said, were "the priest craft, keepers of the temples and keepers of the crystal. During the Trail of Tears, beginning in the 1830s, when it was decided to march our people from North Carolina to places west of the Mississippi, my relatives, they did not want to go. They felt it was their duty to remain in the area of the Carolinas so they hid in caves. There was, at that time, a Sephardic Jewish family named, I believe, DeValentinis, from either Portugal or Spain, who aided my relatives in that time of struggle, who, perhaps having known what it was like to be forced from their home, had an understanding . . . "
Dhyani Ywahoo operates the Sunray Meditation Center in Huntington, Vt. She has made common cause with native peoples all over the planet and finds similarities in traditions be they "Celtic, Hebrew, African, whatever."
She says her school, where she teaches at the behest of the prophecies of her tribe's elders, has drawn people from all over the world. "They thought there would be great adversity, despair for all people unless some of us were willing to go out and call our brothers and sisters again to a remembrance of peace. The most important issue is that we can all trace our roots to the great tree of peace, that life in itself is that tree and everyone who shares their lives on this planet is a relative." She has schools also in "Boston, St. Louis, California, Montreal," and "a large body of people of all races and cultures is getting together with groups in Turkey, India, in Europe . . . " It is, she says, "about reweaving the sacred web of humanity." These people have come to her, she says. "I hide," she says, "but they find me anyway."
Sun Bear and Dhyani Ywahoo agree that the Earth is a living entity. It has "breathing holes" and "meridians," just as the human body has acupuncture meridians, she says. "We better tune in and call out the energy of transformation because I don't want to see any more wars in our holy place. The Middle East, for example, is a balancing point. You can apply the wrong pressure to a certain area and it can cause explosions of the whole planet."
Most of the ceremonies at the Medicine Wheel -- at first a large ring of rocks and by the end of the weekend, a circle filled with offerings and personal possessions to be "blessed" -- were accompanied by "smudging."
During smudging, Bear Tribe acolytes, mostly not native Americans, carried bowls or shells holding smoldering herbs. They were wafted at those around the ring by feather fans and said to have a healing effect. The herbs were described as "sweet grass and sage." Funny how they smelled like a Cap Centre rock concert . . .
"My back hurts," said one woman, as she turned around to permit the smoke to curl around her back. "Oh listen," said the acolyte doing the wafting, "I'm a chiropractor. Maybe I can help you."
Another ceremony was the Sweat Lodge. In a tradition not unlike those in northern Europe, cold water is poured on rocks that have been heated to a red glow so that hot steam suffuses a wood or tent "lodge" in which participants are led in prayer and healing services by the Indian medicine people. It is called "doing a sweat lodge." It is, said one New Yorker, "a very powerful experience."
"With the sweat pouring off," says Sun Bear, "we are getting rid of the negativity that is in the person. We use the sweat lodge a lot for treatment of arthritis, rheumatisim and for people who have alcohol problems. To our people sweat is a sacred thing, a way for people to find their balance on the Earth today. Because of the way the present system has separated people from the Earth and from each other as human beings, in order to restore their balance you have to be able to get out and get in contact with some of these forces. . . . It is a way of cleansing."
"In a way," says psychologist Wagner, "the idea of a gathering like this is antithetical to the concept of the shaman, who is a man naked and alone in the wilderness.
"Yet," he said, "you are offering something to people who really can't make sense out of the nonsense of life -- and even if you only offer them good fellowship, then it must be worth it."
"There is," mused Robert Sorge, the naturepath from New Jersey, "such a tremendous need for human encounter."
Sun Bear, in his Billy Jack black hat, with his pipe that was once owned by Yellow Hand, "a great medicine man murdered in the 1880s by Buffalo Bill," looked out at the lake and laughed.
"Happiness," he said, "is the greatest medicine there is.
"I think the Great Spirit must have a tremendous sense of humor. He must sit wherever he's at and just roll with laughter whenever he looks at what's happening down here. I figure that it has to be the greatest show going."