It was the weekend of 24 to 26 July 1998. I was invited to the ‘Woman’s Gathering’, organized by Elder, Grandmother and Medicine woman, Kayendres of the Red nation. The theme was: Bringing the Medicines back to women.
My invitation came after visiting a Teepee during the Tulip festival in Ottawa about 9 months after landing in Canada as an immigrant from South Africa. This mover was inspired by a ‘calling’ received in a vision and dreams which I resisted at first. Everything was new in Canada and I felt drawn to visit the Teepee. I found a First Nation woman inside the Teepee. She was sitting on the ground next to a central fire and jested me to join her. She looked me deep in the eyes, handed me a handful of colourful stones and asked me to tell her a story. I held the stones in my hands, felt their energy and gently threw them on the ground and started to tell her a story about the picture that arose in my mind as I looked at the formation the stones created. I cannot remember what I said, but it stirred her for some reason. Again, she gave me an intense look as if she was looking into my Soul and asked me to join the Woman’s Gathering with a slight urgency in her voice. I felt too that it was very important for me to be there and waited eagerly for that weekend to come.
Grandmother Kayendres led the group of about 400 women on this weekend. Woman from all over Canada, from all colours and status and walks of life, came together for the gathering. Huge woman, skinny women, tiny woman, professional woman and non-professional women. All aspects of life and womanhood were represented. Kayendres made a joke saying we all actually look the same in the end.
Gerald helped me put up the little 2-man tent on the open area allocated for that purpose. All the women attending were to stay on the island in the middle of the Ottawa River for the whole weekend without leaving. Victoria Island in the Ottawa River is of national importance to the Algonquin and aboriginal culture in Canada. No-one could come into the island who were not invited or part of the initial group.
Many tents were already standing. It was a colourful sight. I didn’t know what to expect, and felt exited and scared at the same time.
Grandmother Kayendres explained at the general meeting how the weekend will proceed. All of us will always be at the general meetings. At these there will be general ceremonies and gift giving and announcements. We will start a sacred fire that will burn throughout the entire weekend and there will be fire keepers who will look after the fire throughout the night. In the mornings, there will be sunrise ceremonies and pipe ceremonies. After the general meeting the workshops will take place. Sweat lodges and moon-lodges will be explained and participated in.
I learned that I too have to present a workshop on “The riddle in the mirror” for which I had not prepared. After I submitted my proposal for the workshop, I never received a confirmation that I was to present it.
I felt strangely calm and felt that because it is a subject close to my heart, I would present what I knew from my heart and use my creativity and the divine energy that flows through in the moment of engagement and attunement to the event, just as in my therapy sessions.
There were so many workshops and I felt confused about the many options to choose from to attend. Again I decided that I would trust my higher self and am lead to the right workshops.
All the presenters introduced themselves, by way of a short introduction.
Because I did not prepare, I thought that there wouldn’t be anybody who would be interested in my workshop, seeing that there were so much to choose from. To my astonishment, my workshop was overbooked. Again I had to accept and trust that the process will happen, as it should.
Kayendres showed us a wonderful “eight pointed star” quilt with the four colours of the four nations of the world; red for the red people, yellow for the yellow people, black for the black people and white for the white people. ‘These colours also represent the four directions and the four elements in nature. This quilt will be a gift to a woman at the end of the weekend. She herself and her helper personally made the quilt. Every woman in that hall wanted that quilt as a token of acceptance of her “medicine”. Kayendres said that when the name is drawn at the end of the weekend and you are not present at the time, “tough tits”. We all laughed at her candid and honest words always spoken with a sense of humour.
Before any ceremony started at the beginning of each day, every woman was “smudged”. “Smudging” is a sacred cleansing procedure that everyone underwent asking the Creator to assist in cleansing impurities in our senses for us to be aware of “truth”. When it was your turn and the smoking smudge ball were presented to you, you would cup your hands and “wash” your eyes with the smoke, to enable you to only see truth. In the same way your cupped hands washed your ears with smoke to enable you to only hear truth, and with cupped hands moving the smoke over your mouth washing it so you will be able to only speak truth. You would also wash your head, so as to think only pure and truthful thoughts and over your entire body, back and front, to cleanse the chakras.
I thought this was such a beautiful way of starting the day. It was such a powerful suggestion to everyone, because never were there any envy or nastiness amount the women, which is a rare thing amongst such a lot of women.
The atmosphere of generosity, love and acceptance was amazing! The message was that everything we have is lent to us for a time and then we need to pass it on to someone ells to share in that experience. It was a true experience of sisterhood and motherhood. I felt as if I have come “home” to people of like-mindedness; coming home to what I always knew was and is somewhere in the collective.
Grandmother Kayendres’s message was very clear: we are only as strong as our weakest link! The support toward every person there was indeed a testimony for the power of love.
My workshop were very well accepted and appreciated. In fact the woman loved it.
Everyone came afterwards to ask questions and advice. After I gave what I could to support them, they would always give me a gift of some kind. Sometimes it would be something they made, like a medicine bag, a piece of material for quilting tobacco or a photo of a painting. One woman gave me a foxtail and said that I am wise like a fox and cunningly first observe all the information available before I make my conclusions that I share. The fact that I lived in a small 2-man tent and looked stunning every day also made me a foxy lady, she said.
The teaching of the Grandmother was that when your medicine is well received, you are appreciated by a gift from the person who received it. When you receive anything form anybody, even mother earth, the response of appreciation by giving something back is essential. When you give what you have made or that which is your medicine, it is even better.
We have to carry our medicine well, she said.
At one of the ceremonies, Grandmother took out some music instruments. She started with a song that all the women had to sing, then started to play a drum and handed it to a woman in the group to play. Then she would take a rattle and started shaking it to hand it to someone in the audience to continue. Then she took a flute and started to play it and called me to take it over. I do not know how to play a flute, but felt that this was a special privilege that I were not to miss, so I took the flute and started to make noises on it. It felt so beautiful in my hands, so light and so magical. The sounds were so clear and sharp, but I made sounds that did not correspond to the singing of the women. Not for a moment did I want to give up on this instrument and blew with inspiration as the singing and drumming in the hall became louder and more intense. Like the magic that I felt in the flute, I suddenly felt my fingers on the right holes and the flute making the most beautiful and appropriate sounds as my mouth blew the air into it. The beat, intensity and clarity of the sounds coordinated exactly with the singing of the woman and the sounds of the drums and rattles! I felt how the spirit of the flute guided me into using it as an instrument of joy! What an experience!
The workshop that I did attend and were attracted to was the Spirit Dancing by Lise Nickerson. The dance was a shortened version of Ti Chi kind of movements. The symbology connected to it was to me exactly what I need at the moment and corresponds with the vision of the tree meditation that came to me one day while in deep meditation. All the directions are greeted and invited to protect give take and send energy through your heart back to the earth and the heaven. So just like the tree you absorb and send the energy out of and towards all directions including earth and heaven. The energy never stagnates. It always moves through your heart from a direction towards the opposite direction, and from the opposite direction to the other side again. No one direction is more important than the other is. All is in one united flow that keeps on moving. Like the dance of life, one aspect into the other! I loved the dance and made sure that I would be able to do it when I left the weekend. This was something worth while that I received just in time!
I have received many gifts and “medicine” from woman. Many of the women were mirrors to me and reflected important aspects to me, some remembering what I already know and had experienced long before. The fire keeper with her bold shaven head, her thin concentration-camp body and her sad eyes spoke of pain and guilt. She was torturing herself by carrying the guilt of all white people for the wrongdoing towards coloured people. She carries the pain of cultural sin on her own shoulders. This was her emphatic medicine – this is what some women do. She mirrored the guilt I took onto myself, carrying the in denied suffering and wounds my ancestors and country caused. I recognized this pain in me when I saw my ‘sister’ doing this. I feel guilt and shame about hurt others put upon people of the earth. I feel guilt and shame about my angry with everyone who let others me down and for not understanding. I feel like an alien who do not belong anywhere and yet feel I belong everywhere and that all is familiar to me. I feel let down personally and collectively and yet feel that I have let myself down by not acknowledging myself. Feeling too humble and not speaking up is actually allowing myself to feel dis empowered, which is a kind of self-deception. I feel guilty for being angry at my country; anger towards all the white people no matter their religion or culture, who discriminate, judge and control so violently that it does not leave anyone space to be; the black people who cannot forgive and move forward, holding onto grudges of the past, who want to stay in the pain of their neglect. My guilt is keeping me in the pain. My anger is keeping me in pain. This does not allow me to accept my calling; I doubt myself because of my guilt of being white, which makes me feel that I have to suffer my ancestral sins. I expect criticism and rejection because of being and thinking differently. My ability to ‘see’ becomes a guilt and not a medicine.
Love is the only true bridge. I thank my sister for her medicine, so I can release my guilt and hope she can do it too.
All the different “mirrors” reminded me of my different lives and lessons learned. I remembered knowing.
The dance woman mirrored to me that it is time to acknowledge myself for who I know I am, accepting my gifts and medicine, while accepting every other person’s gifts and medicine, as I’ve always known.
The sweat-lodge woman mirrored to me the beauty of true leadership; to know when to lead and when to follow when necessary. I loved her for what she did for people, how she guided and carried her sweat-lodge medicine.
My drug-rehabilitated sister mirrored her strength, her perseverance, her warmth, kindness and her many talented faces.
My drum-maker sister mirrored her generosity and spontaneity; the medicine in her echoes of heart in the drums she manifested.
My stuttering sister mirrored how fear can separate me from contact with others and cripple my life, and how to have the courage to clear the fear away when there is support; her bravery to ask for support.
My humble sister mirrored her silent resilience for survival through difficult circumstances to testify the guidance of her powerful spirit side.
My two spirited sisters mirrored their need for acceptance and recognition for their talents and humanness; their warm-hardheartedness and generosity to help, inspire and support anyone who needs it.
My teeth-sister mirrored prejudiced anger that sometimes creeps up without consciousness, and her medicine of consciousness of her shadow.
My untouchable sisters mirrored the strength and beauty of innocence and eagerness to learn and grow.
My mother-of-the-little-people mirrored how to give medicine without a lot of words and talk to the magical nature-world.
Sunday afternoon came, and it was the end of the activities and the finale ceremony started. I felt unsure about my contribution and silently asked a sign to confirm my work and the direction that I need to go into her in Canada. Everyone’s names were put in a bag and one by one someone’s name was drawn to receive some gift or other. Some of the special gifts were wall hangings of eagles and more. Then people also received readings from some of the women who donated their services. Then the big moment arrived.
A name was drawn to get the special star-quilt. The hall was silent. Everyone in the hall wanted this gift, because it was considered such a blessing. All the women were silently holding their breaths and wishing that it would be their name on the card that was just drawn. Kayendres hesitated a moment to prolong the tension before she read the name out loud. It was my name!
With absolute overwhelmed surprise, I immediately knew that this was a very significant sign. I was ‘home’. I had medicine to give and should acknowledge myself as the shaman that I am, the dreamer who understands dreams, the healer and the teacher who bridge worlds. This was a blessing and a gift. I went up to receive the quilt. Kayendres took it and wrapped it around my shoulders and started to bless me by feathering the smudge smoke over me.
At that very moment I saw the vision I held for so long about unity among all people clearly manifesting in symbol. I saw the four corners of the earth the four colours of the nations: Black, White, Yellow and Red, all standing together. I am “re-remembering” my “family”; putting them back together again. First the women and when they are strong then the men join. I wanted to share this ‘dream’ that I just saw and asked for my black sister, my yellow sister, and my red sister (Kayendres of course), to come and stand next to me. We took hands to form a circle and then I threw the “star quilt” that hung over my shoulders, over us all to unite us all. I felt the power of this symbol of wholeness and so did everyone in that gathering! All the women rejoiced in loud sounds! When I finally spoke, I said that this experience was to me like a “homecoming” and just like Joseph received his fathers special multicoloured dream-coat, I have received this multicoloured dream-coat, to confirm to me that my dreams are worth dreaming and I want everyone to dream this dream with me into reality. My dream is that this gathering would be the seed, the beginning of a great gathering of woman of all colours from across the whole world. When we as woman have come together to unite as a whole, we need to unite with our counterparts, the male energy of the world, so we can be truly “one” and heal all past wounds we have caused each other. We the women of this Earth are the ones with the ‘medicine’. We are the ones with hearts that Love and care and teach. We were given to know how to do so and we need to encourage each other to remember.
The woman in the gathering felt this message in their hearts and cheered and sang, clapping with joy and agreement to this statement.
I told them that I have a vision of being a bridge between the worlds of science and logic and that of spirit and soul. I am a bridge between peoples of opposites, whether colour, feeling or beliefs. May we all be bridges, so that the dream of worldwide unity may happen soon.
A long stream of woman holding hands, singing and dancing out of the building in a long snakelike form, reminded me of a long-forgotten vision once, where people danced and sang in a snakelike link over the entire face of the earth!