Saturday, March 21, 2009

Reading the Coals Native American Indication of the Future

Traditionally “Reading the Coals” is something the elder men do. But in these times when everyone is scattered and life seems so chaotic and unsure, I believe it’s wise to do this whenever we can and not wait for the tradition.

In general, reading coals can be done in a fireplace, charcoal barbeque, hibachi, or anywhere you can make fire. My family typically reads the coals once a year after “First Thunder”, which is early spring.

Reading the Coals is a ceremony anyone can do. It does not require special abilities, knowledge or complex environments. This is what I call a “lesser ceremony”. Although, lesser doesn’t mean less powerful. The major ceremonies are ones I classify as taking a day or more to conduct, a complex environment such as a special structure like a sweat lodge and involve many people, such as ceremony leaders, singers, fire keepers, door keepers and others to perform the necessary tasks. The lesser ceremonies involve very few people and take a few hours to conduct in a common environment.

Since I left the Reservation, it has been interesting to involve people who have no background in Native American culture or traditions. I still forget that not everyone grew up with American Indian concepts. Often I have left things out, because I assumed others had knowledge of something that they did not. So, today I try to write about the ceremony beforehand, which leaves me free during ceremony to do what is common for me and still allows everyone to be involved in something new.

First laughter and being relaxed are always good things. I used to get very intense and stressed before ceremony and my teachers would tell me, “Don’t start the ceremony before the ceremony”. In other words there's a time for intensity and pre-ceremony isn't it. Those that choose to sit by the fire or tend the fire, stay in a casual state of prayer. Talking and laughing are perfectly fine, as long as the main focus is the sacred fire. What it's showing us, what's changing, such as the direction of the flames, or any oddities that might occur with the fire. As we do this, our hearts and minds open up to the essence of fire and the spirits that come to it. It's also fine to go inside and not sit by the fire. There really are no rules. Our experience should flow with the energies surrounding it.

Also, before the coals are ready, you can put prayers into the fire with objects such as tobacco ties, a pinch or handful of tobacco, written petitions, prayer flags, and offerings of any sort. I think in Judaism they offer bread to the fire. Whatever comes to you is fine. You cannot hinder or weaken the power that belongs to Fire.

So, the fire has died down and the coals are glowing. We start with a formal invocation, such as a song or prayer or statement of intent. Then everyone becomes quiet, so as not to interrupt anyone who is getting a message or viewing images in the coals. We say out loud what we see, even if we don't understand the image. The image will be significant for someone in the ceremony, even if the reader doesn't understand it. We keep in mind that reading the coals is a tribal family ceremony. The images are meant for us and are generally not about the outside world as a whole. This is a very intimate ceremony and was used originally for the survival of the family. What will the weather be, where will the buffalo be, what obstacles can we avoid. Today, we are an extended family with few of us genetically related, but we still need to know what's coming, how we can make our lives better and avoid any obstacles that are not conducive to our life experience. Although, messages from the fire are not always about future events, they can be about what is necessary now.

It's really important everyone understand that we can all do this. Reading the coals isn't for just for seers or specially gifted people. This is a family ceremony and the key is not to censor anything you see. Trust it and say it, even if it seems crazy or silly. It will be significant for someone.

We are all related,
Paula Bidwell

Read more articles and stories by Paula on her website

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