Talking with the stars
Talking with the stars : the importance of Ritual in Indigenous Knowledge Production
By: suOm Uheri Francis
edited by Victoria Grieves
Prev. Published in the 10th annual international Maroon Conference Magazine
Through this writing, I honor the maxim that “A teaching is not to be given without someone asking sincerely”. Receiving teachings is not for the sake of knowledge alone; it is receiving a responsibility; it involves the act of acquiring knowledge for self- practice, and keeping the knowledge sacred. In the Tibetan teachings of the Kagyu lineage it is understood that after much practice and inquiry you can be taught “secret teachings”. When I heard this I was confused because of my lack of understanding, which made me feel alienated until I was ready to leave my pride aside.
From this I have come to understand that secret teachings are not the esoteric teachings modern “healers, shamans, gurus” claim, to get you somewhere higher or better than your current reality. In fact, what I learned was that secret and sacred can be used interchangeably. To keep something sacred is to give it the respect that it deserves, to honor it and harness its power, its medicine. Thus when we keep secrets and confide our views and experiences in others, we take an oath to not speak about it unless permission is granted, or after a certain time has passed. Sacred/Secret is not meant to establish a hierarchy of knowledge, it is simply the opportunity to grow in understanding, as the knowledge flows from person to person and becomes part of each one.
As each person assumes true responsibility to respect and carry out a teaching, a greater understanding of the value of the teaching arises within one’s self to be shared with others. Looking at all ancient cultures around the world, we see that our ancestors tuned into a higher level of understanding of, as Alan Watts puts it: “Everything is part of everything else” . All Indigenous peoples, from the Mayans to the Egyptians, carried medicine, and us in turn as descendants carry medicine within us. We are all medicine thus we are called to assume responsibility with utmost respect and humbleness, checking in with our hearts, and the appropriate teachers to represent without wrongly appropriating.
Mother Earth, Gaia, Unci Maka, Pachamama: the mother of all humanity provides us with all the tools, material, psychological and spiritual, that we can use to honor our relations. The Medicine Wheel teaching, known also as the sacred hoop serves as a reminder of our interdependence, responsibility and blessing to be related to each other and to all things as ALL ONE.
In this circle, we are all together : all people, minerals, animals, all the ceremonies, along with Sun, Moon, Sky, Earth, Water, Animals, Wind, Fire, Sweetgrass, Cedar, Sage and Tobacco.
Sacred Herbs and Ritual
Indigenous cultures are seemingly different on the surface but share a common thread: the use of medicinal herbs as ceremony. Regardless of their geographic location, language and belief structure; Tibetans, Lakota, Catholics, Nahuas and other cultures that have inhabited this earth for many generations have realized the power and spiritual significance of herbs and smoke.
These teachings are so much part of our everyday life routine that most of us don’t know how to properly acknowledge their gifts. In the medicine wheel we pray to the four directions and use a tree resin and or a herb as a smudge or by smoking. Each direction embodies many psychological qualities to reflect in our lives, spiritual healing, and what I see as tangible and practical tools to access the medicine. Invoking the directions, calling the spirits for support, making offerings and using each direction’s medicine is a ritual. Personally, I’ve come to understand ritual as carrying out a routine with utmost respect for all relations.
I’d like to start the exploration of sacred herbs for ritual with Tobacco.
PRAYING WITH TOBACCO :TALKING WITH THE STARS
What do you know about tobacco? This question is often asked because many people do not understand the sacred teachings around this herb, Greed has depleted the sacredness from many medicines that our ancestors used for a variety of purposes. The most tangible one being tobacco since it has become a commodity on the open market.
In this new era of travel, internet and hunger for knowledge many earth teachings are exoticized, categorized and dressed in bells and whistles. While, some people might feel called to this exotic approach for various reasons, I am honored to have encountered teachers, keepers of knowledge, that walk a humble walk, sometimes so simple that if not attuned to it, you miss the teaching entirely.
The (medicine) wheel here takes the shape of a negative feedback loop, where disconnection to tradition leads to misinformation, misuse, abuse and hurt. As we learn about the sacred medicines stories and uses, we hold the responsibility to use these medicines in a good way, to mend the sacred hoop in order to integrate all beings back into the medicine wheel and restore the harmony in our personal and collective environment.
Tobacco is the original instruction, the way of communication between this realm with the realms beyond, It is how we honor all directions at the beginning and end of all ceremonies. Tobacco smoke mixes our breath with the breath of the universe to carry our prayers to the stars. It is through tobacco that a person can learn from a teacher, therefore tobacco itself is the vehicle of knowledge.
Tobacco is humble and powerful; it allows all other teachings to flow, protects and cleanses the spirit while carrying our prayers.
Tobacco is a primordial plant for natives in the Americas. The Yawanawa in Brazil as well as some tribes in Colombia are known for their Rapé / Hapé air medicine. They grind the tobacco leaves, ash from particular trees and sometimes other medicines, herbs in order to commune with themselves and higher realms in a meditative state. The Lakota people (US) and Wixarika people (Mexico) use tobacco at the beginning of ceremonies, offering prayer to the fire with tobacco wrapped in corn husks. Tobacco and corn are complementary; together they represent breath, memory and life. Tobacco is food for the soul and corn is food for the body.
TEACHINGS OF TOBACCO
Tobacco is an ally of many gifts. In my experience, teachings show up in formal and informal settings, and it is the most simple ones that have had a profound effect on my relationship with the medicine road.
OMETEOTL (duality): In the Nahuatl language of central Mexico, OME means two, balance , reality, reflection, movement. TEOTL means creative energy, spirit, The medicine of tobacco helps us integrate aspects of ourselves that are disconnected by choice of lack of awareness. Praying with tobacco consciously can help bring forward the light and shadow aspects of ourselves in order to work with them.
Ometeotl can be analysed as present in the tobacco medicine/ vice paradox. It is represented in the commercial duality vs. the spiritual reality of the plant as medicine. In this, the following questions are relevant and it is important to consider:
How do I use tobacco in my life?/ What is my relationship with the plant?/
That is, is my use of tabacco Habitual or Ceremonial?
Thinking about appropriate behavior around Tobacco
There are those who encounter the red road who will sadly misuse tobacco in a habitual manner and justify their addiction by saying that they are praying. In modern times, a person might benefit from the centering and grounding tobacco offers by rolling a tobacco without much preamble, this tobacco is not to be used all the time, but rather kept away and used non-habitually. Rather, there are misguided individuals who believe they are on the right path by practicing the following:
· Singing a tobacco song learnt in ceremony (or most likely YouTube) in order to smoke your cigarette with your coffee - this is not praying!;
· Lighting up a cigarette or using rapé in your car on your way to work each morning is not praying. No matter how many gratitude prayers you attach to it;
· Praying earnestly with a commercial cigarette is considered disrespectful;
· Offering commercial packs of cigarettes as gifts to honor people is also not appropriate;
· Providing baskets of cigarettes to guests of a modern ceremony to smoke after – not appropriate;
· Using tobacco habitually and believing that praying with it will exempt you from health problems is not going to bring the desired results;
· Using pre-rolled tobacco with filters is not appropriate for ceremony;
· Holding the tobacco away from the body is not appropriate;
· Putting out tobacco with one’s foot is disrespectful.
A GOOD WAY
· A pinch of tobacco in a medicine bag carried as protection;
· A pouch or a bundle to honor / greet guests;
· To pray with tobacco for both gratitude and need and offer our hearts to great spirit;
· To smoke tobacco in order to bless an agreement between people;
· To smoke tobacco when discussing important matters.
HOW TO BE PRESENT WITH YOUR PRAYER
· Being by taking a couple of deep breaths with your eyes open, if you are able, turn clockwise to face each direction and whether you know more or not, simply invoke the spirits of each direction to come and be present in this time. Thank tobacco for this way of praying particularly when facing east.
· Roll your tobacco either by hand or with the use of a rolling machine at the time of your prayer. As you roll it make sure you lay the tobacco in only one direction, forward.
The tobacco represents your road, and setting up your road with back and fourth motions will only bring more confusion instead of the clarity you seek. You may use aromatic herbs and roots like sage, chamomille, osha, lavender, anise, fennel in your tobacco. You may also purchase kinnikinnick
· As you light your rolled tobacco, take in the symbology of the elements represented in the ritual you are creating: The match/ lighter /Candle are the embodiment of father sun, the tobacco is your human body, your prayer and your intention. Acknowledge your ancestors, the star people, say hi.
· Close your eyes for a moment, give thanks.
When lit, tobacco pierces the veil between realms and carries our prayers to the sky and all the directions that we need assistance from. When you are done, put tobacco out by hand and offer it to the directions, the sky and the ground. Finally place it respectfully somewhere in nature, offer it to a plant or hold it to be released later.
Prayer with tobacco is a big responsibility in these times where commercial tobacco, chemicals and non-sustainable practices are attacking the way of life of keepers like the Wixarika tribe, and hurting our society physically and spiritually by catering solely to the addictive properties of tobacco for the purposes of making a profit and meanwhile, the medicine of tobacco is mostly hidden and the practices are not followed
I invite people to pray in these ways, in a humble manner, with knowledge and heart blended together in the smoke of the sacrament and in this way, mend, beautify and enjoy the sacred hoop that is life.
WE ARE MEDICINE
I feel the need to emphasize here something I have learned only recently, that we as individuals carry exactly what another person might need to recognize God/ Creator/ Love/ The universe within themselves. Medicine can be sweet, or it can be bitter, however it always helps us transcend an unhealthy state.
The fact that we are medicine also means that we don’t need anything to complete us. Hold that thought right in between your ears for a while.