Earth Renewal Story
Deep within my solar plexus I felt a tug, a distinct pull. Simultaneously the image of my Grampa Pena, my mentor in the shamanic training I was undergoing, appeared in my mind’s eye, beckoning. The pull in the solar plexus got my attention, his image appearing conveyed his intent and verified the sensation I had come to associate with a call of Spirit.
Yupa: Ceremonial Dance Pole for Earth Renewal Ceremony
As the next morning’s sun rose in a shimmering magenta dawn from over the JD Range of the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado, I saddled up my horse. Throwing a canteen over the pommel, strapping blanket with the tie straps behind the saddle, I set off for my Grampa’s cabin. Grampa’s place was on the San Juan River some two and a half days’ ride from the old adobe in which I lived. I had for some time been living on the Pine River which runs through the Southern Ute Reservation.
Late the morning of the third day’s riding I reigned up in front of Juan Pena’s old cabin that he himself had built many a year before. After his wife’s death he had burned their original cabin, with all their common belongings, to the ground, this being the custom of the local tribal peoples in those long gone times.
It was late Spring, 1978, and the green of the new grass was peering through the layer of dead grasses laid down from the year before. Grampa’s cabin had an old coat of dull green paint on it that made the brilliance of the short lived lushness of the spring grass appear even that much more vivid.
My Grampa Pena stood under the overhanging roof of his porch as if awaiting my imminent arrival. With a jab of his extended thumb followed with a rapid flicking and twisting of his fingers he indicated in Indian hand-sign language that I should tie the horse up over by his shed. Leaning upon his crooked oaken cane the old man walked over to where I was unsaddling my horse. When I turned to him I could see that Grampa was heavy of heart.
“Grandson,” he said, “Right here I used to plant my corn. And over here I would put my squash and melons. Yes sir, I could even plant melons!”
This surprised me, as I knew that in this portion of southern Colorado, at over 6,000 feet elevation, the planting of corn was possible, squash was marginal and melons simply would not bear fruit.
“Grandson,” he continued, “When I was young like you these hillsides were covered in tall grass,” he indicated with a gesture of his hands waist high growth,”wildflowers of every color grew all over these hills.”
At this statement I was shocked, for we were standing in the midst of a semi-arid desert, the hillsides barely supporting scattered rye grass and prickly pear cactus.
“The seasons are different now.” Grampa spoke. “The winters are too long and too cold, summers are too short and too hot. It is like this, Grandson, because nobody cares for the Earth anymore. Nobody sings the Earth awake in the Spring, dances her dance of celebration in the Summer. No one sings her to sleep in the Fall. There is no one left to dream the Dreams of the Earth Mother. That is why it is so bad these days. Like a mother whose children steal from her, spit upon her and abuse her, even that mother must pull herself back when she has nothing left to give. Yes sir! Our Earth Mother, she has pulled her self back from the world.” This he said with sadness, drawing his arms and clenched hands up tight to his right side. “And Grandson, in your day it will get much, much, much worse.”
My gut felt as clenched as his fists. A nausea spread through me as the truth of what he spoke settled into my awareness.
Grampa Pena began to shuffle forward, arms extended in supplication, then stepped backwards pulling his hands, the forces of Creation, into his solar plexus. He next turned ninety degrees to the right and shuffled forward and back again, repeating this for each of the four directions. Returning to face the East the Old Man spread his arms into a circle embracing the universe and with a fluid motion moved them into the position of cradling a newborn child before dropping his hands and arms towards the earth. With precision and power each step of this dance he made. Grampa turned to me and spoke “Grandson, I give this dance to you. It is the dance to awaken the Earth Mother in the Spring, celebrate Her in the Summer, put Her to sleep in the Fall and to dream Her dreams in the Winter. Grandson, I remember the dance. There is a song which goes with this dance. But the one who carried that song, I guess he got killed when the invaders came and slayed our people. You are going to carry this dance out to the People, but first you must go find the song that goes with it.”
The task that my grandfather had just set before me stunned me. How was I to find a song which had been gone for over 100 years? I shook as if I had just awoke in a void, looking for a light. I had no idea of how to find a song. All I knew to do was, as my mentor had always displayed to me, to make myself worthy. With that as my dedication I set forth upon my quest. Never ‘looking’ for the song, I sought to be ever more available for the song to make itself known to me. The years went by. Juan Pena died, a hearty man of 104, in 1982. With his death the caretakership of the knowledge and ceremonies he had carried all his life, as with the Grandfathers and Grandmothers before him, passed to my care. Though never forgotten, onto the back burner went the quest.
Spring Equinox, 1986. I was spending the day in prayer and fast from sunrise to sunset. I had chosen as the place to do this my ‘Grandmother Cedar Tree’, a large and beautiful red cedar located at the mouth of a steep walled canyon deep in the Southern Colorado wilderness. Into the Silence, open to Spirit I had come.
Somewhere midmorning I had a remembrance of a recent radio interview I’d heard on the tribal station. The radio announcer was speaking with a representative from the National Forest Service who had just participated in a conference with etymologists, botanists, corporate lumber personnel and Forestry officials seeking to understand a massive die off of trees in Southern Colorado. When questioned directly about the reason, the NFS man responded that though there was a minor infestation of gypsy moths, whose larva burrow under a tree’s bark, it was not sufficient to cause such a large regional dieing of trees. Neither was there evidence of acid rain nor other environmental concerns relative to the trees’ condition. “Okay,” I ask of Spirit, ‘what is it that you want me to know from this?”
I feel a tug in my midsection. I get up and allow myself to be drawn along the way of the pull. Across the wash behind me I go. Up the side of the mesa I am taken, to the top. There I am stopped at a small pile of yellow sand. I kick my foot through it. “Yeah?” I ask. the pull starts up again and I am led across the mesa, down into the canyon above where I had begun my morning vigil. To a spot that I am very familiar with I am directed. I had just been to this same place the autumn before, this being a place where a unique substance is gathered, a naturally occurring material used to undo curses. Where just a few months before there had been a massive 15 foot tall column of sandstone there was now a slender 5 foot spire of rock with a large pile of sand around the base! In a state of befuddlement I walked back to my Grandmother Cedar and sat against her trunk. What had caused this boulder, and evidently, the yellow sandstone above, to simply melt in less than a half year? Sure, sandstone will absorb moisture during a thaw, then as it freezes a flake might drop off, but nothing could account for the total disintegration of rock that I had just witnessed. these questions i asked of myself, then went once again into the Silence and from there I opened to Spirit.
A deep and sultry woman’s voice spoke from the cliffs across the way. “AIDS.”
With a crescendo of awareness cascading through my awareness I understood. I understood what Grampa had been telling me all those years ago, that things would get “much, much, much worse.” I understood what he told me about the Earth Mother herself needing to pull herself away when she had nothing left to give. Earth Mother/Form-Giver. It is Her divine presence which holds the world in manifest form. And when her presence is withdrawn there is little left to hold the physical form in coherence. The trees, without her essence in full force, were no longer able to withstand minor assaults from gypsy moths and environmental difficulties. Rocks had the binding force of their crystalline structures diminished to the point where they had begun to disintegrate. Earth Mother/Form-Giver, the essence of our immune system, with Her pulling back, left us subject to the rampages of viruses and bacteriological infections.
I cried. I sobbed and wept, wracked dry of tears.”What can I do, Mother?” I called out. “My life belongs to you, to do with as you wish, what is it that you want me to do with this knowledge?”
Years before, in 1972, I was dieing of a terminal illness. Living in a tipi in the Colorado Rockies, far away from other humans, my life force had ebbed to the point that on one particular morning I knew, with a certitude, that this was the day I was going to die. Dragging myself, crawling outside my lodge I pulled myself upright by grabbing onto a limb of oak brush. Standing upon wobbly legs I spread my arms to the morning sun, breathed in the air of our Mother’s breathe. “Thank you. Thank you for this life. It has not been an easy life, but it has been a good life.” I spoke my final words in this life, a prayer of appreciation. Up from the ground beneath my feet a power, vibrating and overwhelming, surged through my whole body. Life! Vigor! Vitality! I was alive, renewed, healed! “Mother,” I called out, “my life belongs to you. Guide me, have me do as you wish. My life is no longer my own, but yours!”
From the cliffs across the way Her voice sang forth, a song rhythmic and emotive, evocative of Her Spirit. I listened, then as She sang again, I sang, sub-vocal, with Her. Again the Earth Mother sang and I sang low. A fourth time She sang and this time She sang through me, my voice no longer my own, but Her’s!
This was the song of the Earth Mother! The very song which Grampa, eight years before, had instructed me to find. Thrilled, enthralled, I sat beneath the tree. Calming myself I went into the Silence. I sat with this gift. And then i did something which could be considered mad. I sent the song back to Her. “Earth Mother, I cannot accept this song as it is, for it is sung in the ancient tongue which no one any longer understands. This song is so important that those singing it must understand what it is that they are singing. The people I work with speak english. Earth Mother, please return this song in english.” Within the Silence I sat.
From the cliffs She sang….”Cloak of Water, Cloak of Fire, Cloak of Air, Cloak of Earth, We bring you birth! Water Flowing, Fire Burning, Air Blowing, Earth Growing, We bring you Birth!”
The dance which my Grampa Pena had passed to me now had the song to go with it. The work was now to begin. A dance and a song does not a ceremony make. Spirit had placed these two primal elements in my care. One thing I have learned over the years is that Spirit has no clue as to how things work here in the world! It is up to us to make the direction of Spirit feasible here in 3D reality.
Continuing from within the Silence the application of creative intelligence allied with meditation, contemplation and investigation brought forth a Vision of the Earth Renewal Ceremony and it’s component structures. Through an ongoing process of working the ceremony, adjusting it to meet the flow of the participants and to bring it into a greater alignment with natural law the Earth Renewal Ceremony evolved into it’s current expression.
Originally I simply placed a stone upon the ground and danced the dance, while drumming and singing, to each of the directions. The build up of power doing this was palpable. Within this field of power I had a Vision of a dance pole around which I was to dance. With further meditation I contemplated the details of the Vision, investigating it’s looks and manner of construction. Applying the results of this process I then built the dance pole given to me in Vision.
The pole itself is about 12 feet tall with seven notches evenly spaced up the west side. This notched pole is a ladder of Mongolian origin. Placed perpendicularly, about one third of the way from the top, is a hoop woven of thirteen boughs of evergreen. The hoop is connected to the pole via a four directional cross of stout sticks. From each of the ends of these staves, in their appropriate direction, are hung ribbons of the respective directions: red for East, yellow for the South, black in the West and white hung from the North. The entire construct is referred to as a ‘Yupa’. The Yupa is placed into a receiving hole in the Earth so that it stands upright.
Now that there was a central dance pole refinements in the other functions of the ceremony began to flow forth. Two major developments came into being as more and more people chose to participate in the dance. The first was to create a ‘Moon Circle’, a ring of dancers moving moon-wise around the perimeter of the dance grounds. The persons dancing in the Moon Circle are Maidens and Grandmothers.These women hold an amplifying lunar force field. The second addition was to place a large dance drum in the northeastern quadrant. The intensity of charge built by the incorporation of lunar forces was tangible in effect. After a few weeks of the new drum in it’s position, however, there was the felt sense that something was off. Investigation with creative intelligence revealed what should have been a pretty obvious faux pax. As the participants dancing to the four directions around the Yupa represent the Earth, the women dancing around the perimeter the Moon, and the drum being the heartbeat of the Sun, there was the realization that the Sun was placed in a position between the Earth and the Moon! The placement of the drum outside the circle of Moon Dancers brought an immediate feeling of rightness and harmony.
It was further noticed, as time went on, that there was still an undercurrent of something still being askew, though there were times of the year when everything seemed suddenly rosy and balanced. The times of increased empowerment was discerned to be late Spring and late Summer. Contemplation of the timings indicated that when the drum was aligned with the place where the Sun was rising, at those times of year the ceremony was clearly more enlightening. From the moment of this realization, the drum has been situated with the rising of that day’s morning Sun. Incredible has been the exponential empowerment of the Earth Renewal Ceremony.
Not all of these alterations of the Earth Renewal Ceremony were mine alone. Individuals who had become dedicated dancers of this ceremony had there own Visions and inputs consequent to them. These were incorporated as refinements as were appropriate to the intent of the ceremony of Earth’s renewal.