Monday, January 19, 2009

The Origin of Medicine

When I was a small child my Grandmother would send me out to the back of the house with a big hand-woven reed basket to gather herbs for her. She knew exactly where each plant was growing with out looking. I was instructed to bring in yarrow, stinging nettle, etc. and how to pick them and what to say to them as I picked them. I would return with a basket full of the most wonderfully smelling plants imaginable. I would sit cross-legged at her feet as she sorted the plants and told me what they were good for .... something for Grandfather's bruised leg, something to add to the stewed corn for supper, something for a calming tea, a sprig of spearmint for me to chew as I listened. Waiting, waiting for the fascinating stories that always came with Grandmother's teaching. And her stories always started ..... "Listen softly, Little One, and remember the Old Ways ....." and then the story began......

At one time, animals and people lived together peaceably and talked with each other...But when mankind began to multiply rapidly, the animals were crowded into forests and deserts. Man began to destroy animals for just their skins and furs, not just for needed food. The animals became angry at such treatment by their former friends, resolving that they must punish mankind.

The Bear tribe met in council, presided over by Old White Bear, their Chief. After several bears had spoken against mankind for their blood-thirsty ways, war was unanimously agreed upon. But what kinds of weapons should the bears use? Chief Old White Bear suggested that man's weapon, the bow and arrow, should be turned against him. All of the council agreed. While the bears worked and made bows and arrows, they wondered what to do about bowstrings. One of the bears sacrificed himself to provide the strings, while the others searched for good arrow-wood.

When the first bow was completed and tried, the bear's claws could not release the strings to shoot the arrow. One bear offered to cut his claws, but Chief Old White Bear would not allow him to do that, because without claws he could not climb trees for food and safety. He might starve.

The Deer tribe called together its council led by Chief Little deer. They decided that any Indian hunters, who killed a deer without asking pardon in a suitable manner, should be afflicted with painful rheumatism in their joints. After this decision, Chief Little Deer sent a messenger to their nearest neighbors, the Cherokee.

"From now on, your hunters must first offer a prayer to the deer before killing him," said the messenger. You must ask his pardon, stating you are forced only by the hunger needs of your tribe to kill the deer. When a deer is slain by a Cherokee hunter, Chief Little Deer will run to the spot and ask the slain deer's spirit, "Did you hear the hunter's prayer for pardon?" If the reply is yes, then all is well and Chief Little Deer returns to his cave. But if the answer is no, then the Chief tracks the hunter to his lodge and strikes him with the terrible disease of rheumatism, making him a helpless cripple unable to hunt again.

All the fishes and reptiles then held council and decided they would haunt those Cherokees, who tormented them, by telling them hideous dreams of serpents twinning around them and eating them alive. These snake and fish dreams occurred often among the Cherokees. To get relief, the Cherokees pleaded with their Shaman to banish their frightening dreams if they no longer tormented the snakes and fish.

Now when the friendly Plants heard what the animals had decided against mankind, they planned a countermove of their own. Each tree, shrub, herb, grass, and moss agreed to furnish a cure for one of the diseases named by the animals and insects. Thereafter, when the Cherokee visited their Shaman about their ailments and if the medicine man was in doubt, he communed with the Spirits of the Plants. They always suggested a proper remedy for mankind's diseases.
This was the beginning of Plant medicine from nature among the Cherokee tribes a long, long time ago. It seemed the stories lasted only as long as it took Grandmother to fill her gourd bowls with all the sorted and prepared herbs.

Be A DreamCatcher

One of the most beautiful and popular stories in Native American legends is that of the DreamCatcher. It's been handed down from generation to generation by our Native storytellers. DreamCatchers are also the most abused, mis-used, and mis-understood of all Native American crafts on the market today.You can go into a reservation gift shop or a national park gift shop and see a profuse supply of DreamCatchers. DreamCatchers are the most purchased of Native American crafts.

It is said that DreamCatchers came from the Ojibwa peoples (Chippewa). It has since been adopted by many Native American/First Peoples cultures. A true Dreamcatcher is made with a hoop or in a tear drop shape, if made from a willow branch. The thing that makes a DreamCatcher a dream catcher is the inticately woven web that resembles a spider's web. It has a hole in the middle and is most likely decorated with charms. A feather hangs from the bottom of it for the good dreams to slide down and reach the sleeper.

The Ojibwa believe that the night is filled with both good and bad dreams (don't we all know this). When a DreamCatcher is hung above your sleeping place it moves in the night air and catches the dreams as they float by. The good dreams, knowing their way, pass through the opening in the center of the webbing while the bad dreams, not knowing the way, are caught in the webbing and are destroyed at the first light of the morning sun. Although the designs and legends of DreamCatchers differ slightly, the underlying meaning and symbolism is universal and is carried across cultures and language barriers, after all, everybody dreams.

As I sit here listening to R. Carlos Nakai and his beautiful flute music I am wrapping suede deerskin around hoops for DreamCatchers. As I drift off into that empty space that comes into your mind with the monotony of repetition I think on what a DreamCatcher does. It lets the good in and captures the bad to later be destroyed. Shouldn't we be more like dream catchers. Shouldn't we let the good in and repell the bad. Shouldn't we let the good words of others into our life and let those bad words be captured and destroyed. Whereas the spider's web of a DreamCatcher allows the good to pass through (the good knows it's way through the spider's maze) the bad dreams are lost and captured until morning light (because they don't know their way through the maze).

We have to become that spider's web and allow only good words from others to pass through to our heart and understanding. We have to capture and repell the bad words from others and keep them from entering our hearts and understanding.This means we have to hold on to others words and judge if they are good or bad. This, as you well know, is not always an easy thing to do. We need to have the strength of an Oak tree to stand and judge words.We need to be slow to speak. We need to keep a tight web. We need to learn to take the time to judge bad words and not allow them into our hearts and understanding. Patience and wisdom will judge the words and this all comes from your heart. You have to be the web.

I have DreamCatchers for sale at Stop by and take a look at them and please respect our ancestors and use your DreamCatchers for what they were intended for. Don't hang a dream catcher from the rear view mirror of your car, it's NOT a decoration.