Saturday, May 16, 2009

Native American Thunder Bird Woman




As a young adult living in the Black Hills of South Dakota I remember feeling like I was living in an enchanted land where everything was in harmony with the ancient beings (Tunkasilas). I felt mystery, power and an overwhelming sense of the sacred during most of my days. Even though this was a magical and sacred time, it was also a time of growth and change, which brought about some difficult experiences and profound dreams and visions that would shape the rest of my life.

In retrospect, I believe the most important change occurred regarding the way I viewed the world. From early childhood, I seemed always to be in a position of the adversary. Pitting “us” against “them”. Culture against culture, race against race, poverty against wealth, etc, etc. This was an adversarial way of living that had to stop, because I was also learning traditional healing methods and ceremonies and there is no room for oppositional or separatist thoughts when living the true life of a human being or walking the “red road”(Canku Luta).

One of the first things that helped me overcome such feelings was the fact that my elder uncle began to open his Sweat Lodge (Inipi) ceremonies to all races and cultures. At the time, the early 1980’s, this concept was almost unthinkable and often severely criticized. I had been given the rights to conduct women’s Inipi (Sweat) ceremonies; and this uncle would ask me to conduct them for the women who regularly attending his ceremonies. Because a lot of the attendees were from different cultures and races, I was very uncomfortable. But because of the deep respect I held for my uncle I conducted the ceremonies without question or complaint.

After almost a year, I became so uncomfortable I had to ask him why he was doing this. He told me he had a vision during Sun Dance. He said the Tunkasilas (ancient beings) told him to help all people regardless of race or culture. They told him this was his contribution to mending the “Sacred Hoop”.

The mending of the sacred hoop is a very lengthy discussion. But, in general, it means bringing the people back together as one circle of humanity. It was Arvol Looking Horse, the Keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe (Canunpa) who told me the Sacred Hoop was made up of all races and that we had to bring the people back together or humanity as we know it would not survive.

So, here were two very influential people in my life saying the same thing. I knew somehow I had to begin to heal my world view. It took years to even get close to a feeling of peace. I prayed and fasted and prayed and fasted. Over and over I tried and tried, slowly making small successful steps.

During this time of change, I made my living as an artist. When I had important dreams and visions, I usually illustrated them. Many of these visions were the ancient beings and holy ones telling me of methods for healing or explaining how these methods worked. But, several were directly related to my process of healing an “Us and Them” world.

When I had these dreams, I usually would wake up around 3:00 o’clock in the morning. It would still be dark, so rather than fumble around searching for pen and paper, I began to leave these things out on a table ready for use.

Each time this happened, I found myself using a technique called pointillism. Pointillism takes a long and focused amount of time to execute. The technique involves making thousands of tiny dots that connect to each other to make a detailed image.

As I used this technique, I would become so immersed in the memory of the vision that I often lost track of time. But one thing I never did was loose track of my perspective. I knew if I remained looking only at the tiny dots, I would loose the image as a whole. Keeping your perspective takes repeated movements of holding the drawing at a distance, or keeping it close and squinting your eyes so you can view the image as a whole.

The following is the story of one of those dreams, the dream of Thunder Woman.

Thunder Woman came to me in the beginnings of a terrific thunderstorm. I awoke to the sound of thunder and the distinct smell of ozone in the air. I got up to look out the window. As I was gazing out the window I began to see a figure in the distance. As I focused on the figure, the figure came closer and closer. Soon I could see every detail.

I must have been in some sort of dream state, because none of this seemed odd or unusual. I was standing beneath a small hill looking up at the most powerful female being I had ever encountered. She stood on top of the hill, with her skirts flowing into the earth. As she gazed out over the land, she spread her arms, and a fabulous array of lightning emanated from them. Then she brought her hands together in a clap and the thunder boomed across the land. A voice boomed from the figure saying, “Understand this power. Use it in honor of all races of women who face upward without fear.” As soon as she said this, she disappeared.

I felt a little confused and wondered exactly what did she mean? I didn’t know what else to do other than go to my studio and draw her image. As I was making all those tiny little dots, I began to think of the connection I felt with women, how similar we were even with different cultures and especially how us mothers could understand each other even with different languages. This was a very important step in my struggle to experience the connectedness of all people and to participate in the healing of the Sacred Hoop. For me, it had to begin with a female connection and Thunder Woman gave me that.

While drawing her image, I remembered some of the stories my elders had told me. I was taught that the ancient beings often referred to as “Thunder Birds”, are more than birds. The bird actually represents the male “Thunders”. My elders told me Thunder Beings are both male and female. The male lives in the sky and the female in the earth. When they meet they create lightening and the sound of thunder. They are called Wakinyan in the Lakota language.


As a note of interest, just after I had this vision I mysteriously received a complimentary copy of Time magazine in my mailbox. The magazine featured an article on Lightning. The article said that lightning, and the ensuing sound of thunder, were caused by two forces. One emitted from the earth that rises to meet a second force coming down from the sky. Which in turn creates the lightning bolt and the sound of thunder.

Whenever confirmations of visions and dreams happen like this, I am always amazed at the knowledge my ancestors carried. I have learned to love science because it so often proves beliefs that were previously considered superstitious.

Mitakuye Oysin (We are all related)
Paula Bidwell
Native Talisman Art

1 comment:

ladyhawthorne said...

What a fabulous and awesome teaching this post has been. I seem to get confirmation of things similarly through supposedly random happenings. I hve come to believe that there is no such thing as coincidence. Thank you for your teachings.