For last week's World Religion class, we had two guest teachers who study with a traditional Blackfoot Native American teacher through an organization known as Bear Spirit Medicine Lodge. We started with introductions, which included one teacher explaining the significance of the ceremonial gown she wore in honor of her birth tribe, who are the Algonquins in Canada.
They started by having the students make their own medicine bags as they explained the ideas about medicine in the Blackfoot tribe.
The BSML also gave them tobacco, beaver chew (a piece of wood that contains the mark of beaver teeth gnawing on the tree), and feathers and bead to put in or on their bags.
We then learned about the Blackfoot altar, including the ritual of calling in the four directions, the colors, seasons, plants, and animals associated with each direction, and other such things. The teachers also explained the Blackfoot ideas about how all things come from Creator, and thus are sacred, and how Man is in relationship with everything else on Earth (animate or inanimate), although we tend to forget that ancient truth.
For my favorite part of the class, however, we went outside and did a Blackfoot ceremony called the Blooming Tree ceremony. Each child had to select one particular tree--addressed as "Grandmother" by the Blackfoot as an ancient ancestor of the people. They prayed to the tree using ceremonial tobacco, which is itself considered to be a prayer by the Blackfoot. They had to give a tobacco offering and then ask one question for each of the four directions of their selected "grandmother," and then write down their responses.
The students had some beautiful answers for the simple, but profound, questions they were supposed to ask for each round. Here are some examples:
EAST: Who am I? The feelings of spirit; The power rooted with the earth's harmony; Love; The sun; Impartial
SOUTH: Where did I come from? The Indian tribe; Fire; The South; A place by which no man has come before; A place sacred to you
WEST: Why am I here? To grow and expand the line of people; To make a purpose; Love; To enjoy
NORTH: Where am I going? To the east; Where you feel is best; To a new life; A bird soaring through a beautiful blue sky
One student wrote this poetic summation of the experience:
I chose this tree because of all the different branches of life that had come before in its journey. I think of all the green leaves as good memories. I think of the dead leaves as memories that have been forgotten but not lost and journeying in the wind to find the place that suits them best.