The Storyteller


(This image of a Black bear who is aptly named Holly,  happens to be my favorite photograph in the NABC calendar.  I chose Holly to represent what can happen at winter solstice. Holly is peering at us while lying upside down!  She is viewing the world in reverse! We too can undergo reversals that shift our awareness permanently, and this is what happened to me this year listening to a Navajo storyteller…)


When I walked into the room a bolt of light shot across the space and struck me so forcibly that it felt like it shattered cells under my skin. Did this occur before I glimpsed her bronzed moon shaped face? I will never know. I sat down almost in front of her, sizzling with the uncomfortable buzz that seizes my nervous system when what I call, the Powers of Nature, have taken over my body/mind. I gazed at her in a dazed sort of way. She wore silver and white, and the two sharply contrasting hues shone so brilliantly my eyes ached…


As she began to speak about the Navajo Blessingway, I drifted effortlessly into a light trance in spite of the static. Honeyed words poured out of her mouth as she slipped from her Native Dine’ language into English and back again; creating a profound musical intonation that made it difficult for me to concentrate on the stories. Initially. All that music. Layers upon layers. I had entered the Forest of Enchantment


Blessingway stories are focused on hearth and home and are told only in the winter usually in cycles of two or four, helping tribal members to “remember” (as in to render all the parts whole) who they were, they are, and who they shall become. All these stories occur simultaneously in the Now. And all are nestled the context of Nature who is ‘home’ to all “the People.” All Dine’ relatives are composed of human ancestors but also embrace mountains, water, air, trees, animals, insects, stars as relatives -every conceivable aspect of Nature is included.


The Storyteller told a family story that I loved – a poignant tale about how her people became part of the Bluebird Clan. Once these birds inhabited this country in all four directions and so the people chose the Bluebird as their animal familiar. Unfortunately, because Dine’ men served in the U.S. military they were forced to change their name. To belong to a Bluebird Clan made no sense to white people in power.


Some of the other Storyteller’s first stories also made us laugh. This woman ever so skillfully and effortlessly wove her family tales of joy, laughter, and sadness into one whole.


Although she has traveled extensively in her 30 years of Navajo story telling she comes from the matrilineal Salt-Water Clan and lives in New Mexico. Every child born in this clan belongs to the mother’s family.


This remarkable woman has worked not just within her own tribe but has functioned as part of an extensive network of Native people who until recently believed (some no doubt still do) that the only hope for peace and Earth sustainability lies with people of all races coming together with a single clear intention to begin to listen. Hope is embodied in the golden thread that places the well being of the planet before the individual creating a contextual reality for all humans to live. Perhaps with this radical shift of perspective westerners could begin to hear Nature’s cries?


(This isn’t the first time I have been forcibly struck by the reality that almost no one is left except Native people who still have the capacity to receive, to hear the myriad of non-human voices that are trying desperately to get our attention.


Westerners are doers not receivers. I can’t stress this point enough. Turning to technology and mechanistic science for truth we have become a people who to a greater or lesser degree are living their lives on the run with doing, and many inhabit a virtual reality in their spare time. Yet our bodies, like the growth rings of a tree, still record each instance of human suffering; so inhabiting these bodies with awareness becomes a dangerous quest.)


The Storyteller focused on the relationship between the human and not human world in all her stories. She spoke of the powers of the eight directions N, S, E, W, and the four that lie in between. She made a point of speaking about an experience she had with Robin who came to her that very afternoon, making it clear through her tale that the signs are there, ready to be read by the person who is capable of receiving. Nature is always speaking; it is people who are not listening.


In western terms I would call The Storyteller an eco – feminist because the she knows that what happens to the animals and plants will also eventually happen to humans.


She made a radical statement: “Stop having children!” No doubt this remark incited anger or disbelief in some even when other human and non -human species are in some kind of trouble because too many people are presently living on a planet that can no longer support them. So many are suffering and dying. The Storyteller says Americans live within a protected bubble. Or at least they did.


The tragic consequences of human hubris and arrogance are now becoming only too apparent she continues. Regardless of personal intent, ethnicity, race, each of us participates in the Earth’s crisis through our actions. We drive cars, burn wood, fossil fuels, wear petroleum – based clothing, clog our oceans with plastics. Our current president may be a monster, she believes, but he is also a mirror in which each of us can see the shadow side of ourselves, offering us a unique opportunity to own our complicity. We are participating in our own demise with each act of denial, blindness, indifference, including the refusal to be accountable for the problems we have created.


Worse from the Storyteller’s point of view is that westerners have deliberately silenced Nature by dismissing her as irrelevant. We use her, but have stolen Her Voice. Nature has absolutely no say in what happens to her as her forests are raped and set afire, her waters, soil, air poisoned, her mountains mined, her animals and plants deliberately murdered, imprisoned and treated as non sentient beings.


The Storyteller informs us that all aspects of Nature are speaking to her and other Native people revealing to those who can stand to live in the truth of ‘what is’ that the time for human extinction is drawing near.


Some would consider this the voice of doom, but is it? She reassures us that our beloved Earth will out live human destruction; the planet will recover from our species’ acts of unspeakable violence and carnage. I personally find this line of thinking hopeful.


About halfway through the storytelling when the story became darker and I began to weep listening to her words, the Storyteller’s eyes started boring into my own. She spoke of the technological damage of cell phones, conversed comfortably in the normality of telepathic communication and “read” the future of humankind with compassion, love, and deep humility, sorrowing as she spoke. We have twelve years she said, eight before things get much worse.


I could feel the buzz intensify to an unbearable pitch as her words penetrated my body. Towards the end she looked directly into the eyes of my heart and said twice, “you will live to be eighty”. My hair caught fire; she knew.


I had been crackling in the flames ever since I entered the room. Now I understood that this was because I was about to receive personal “life instructions” including further validation that my extensive research, my thinking, my intuition, sensing, listening, my dreams regarding the catastrophic loss of animals and plants (and what this would ultimately mean for humans) were sound and true.


My greatest life fear had been put to rest. The mind of the machine was going to be obliterated by Earth Herself.


Once I received this knowledge it penetrated every bone and sinew; my body was finally able to relax. I felt myself psychically collapsing like a rag doll.


We hugged tearfully after The Storyteller’s presentation. As we held one another immense courage and strength flowed between us. I thanked her for her truth telling and afterwards I could articulate the obvious; this woman was a seer.


It wasn’t until I was alone under the stars that I was able to reflect… this propitious meeting had been forecast that day beginning before dawn with the Great Horned Owl’s call. To Puebloan peoples and the Navajo the Great Horned Owl (only this species of owl, not others) comes to warn us that death is on the horizon. And whenever I hear that call I go on high alert just as I do whenever my nervous system begins responding to something in ‘the air’ that hasn’t yet manifested…


Still feeling rubbery I forced myself to ignore my body’s profound exhaustion as I walked to a neighbor’s house for a solstice feast and fire. For me an extraordinary reversal with profound implications for living the rest of my life had occurred this winter solstice night. It may have occurred for others as well. Many in attendance were exposed to truths they might not have wanted to hear. Some denied much of what the Storyteller said turning the whole thing into an uplifting experience. Others, more sensitive and open to receiving, wept.


At the fire when I fell backwards onto my head I heard my body’s cry. ‘Go home! You need time alone to process what has happened.’ As I made my way back I was literally staggering, as if drunk, yet I had survived my literal bodily collapse miraculously unharmed…


Like the Storyteller, I will continue to do the small things I can to leave a lighter footprint on the Earth. I will also continue to accept responsibility for being part of the problem – we are in too deep. Yet I will also persist, offering deep gratitude and experiencing joy when any living creature, tree, plant, ant, dog, bird, deer, chooses to converse with me.


At the same time I honor myself as a woman of great strength, vulnerability, and integrity, a woman capable of loving, one with a ‘pure heart’ as someone told me recently.


By placing myself squarely in the here and now, I hope to become a better receiver, while accepting that my life and the age of the Anthropocene may be coming to a close sooner that I expected. Native time occurs in cycles so the ‘twelve years left’ may be metaphorically expressing the end of an era that could last longer in western linear time…


Either way the end is in probably in sight. As the Storyteller made clear, human extinction is inevitable.


And some part of me breathes a sigh, ever so deep, in stark relief that this should be so.



The Earth has been mother, father brother, sister, lover to me – the context in which I have found home. As a result I believe I can deal much more comfortably with the loss of the most destructive species on earth than most folks can.

As a naturalist who has dedicated the second half of her life to educating others about the perils all non – human species face, and one who until the night of the winter solstice believed she had failed in her life’s mission, now sees the light. I have done what I could; and that is enough. This work of witnessing/educating has been hard. But it was what I came here to do, and thus my life has been permeated with meaning, if not with happiness. It continues to be my fate to witness the ‘great dying’ until my time comes, but I can accept this role with grace and with gratitude because I am finally at peace.

Most miraculous have been the dreams that continue to come… They assure me that life will go on and I feel this truth in my bones. The animals, plants, and fungi will recover from this human induced natural holocaust to live on without the species who did everything it could to destroy them – and this is the greatest gift of all.


Working notes:

My friend Lise stated recently that westerners have to be taught how to become receivers by living in and listening to their bodies (especially with respect to non human species) and that doing so might be a game changer. Until recently, I agreed with her with some reservation because I also believe that critical mass must be taken into account. For example, it’s not enough to save 85 whooping cranes; the species has already become functionally extinct.

Still, I was astonished by this remark, stung by its truth. This thought would never have occurred to me, because I have been an unconscious receiver all my life, no doubt because Nature was the only parent I learned to trust. Nature spoke to me through flowers, trees, and animals teaching me how to listen, and eventually I came to believe her despite being mocked, dismissed, or considered crazy by a species gone insane.

Teaching our bodies how to become receivers with awareness is a monumental task for westerners, but one that might have made all the difference if enough of us could have grasped its importance in time. Even now my senses tell me (Lily b, my telepathic bird bellows) that becoming a receiver is a worthy endeavor and one that might help humans and non – humans alike in ways that are beyond our present understanding.

Frau Holle – Becoming Scrub



In the precious hour before dawn I walk down to a river that no longer empties into the sea – the circle of life has been broken – the earth’s veins and arteries are hopelessly clogged by human interference (stupidity) – the birds and animals that used to be able to rely on the river waters for food and resting places can no longer do so because dams control the water flow and westerners “own” the water. This morning black stone sculptures appeared overnight because the water level has been dropped another foot. And yet, acknowledging the flowing waters in their death throws seems like an important thing to do. For now, at least, the river turns crimson, reflecting the raging beauty of a pre dawn sky, and I am soothed by water rippling quietly over round stone.


I open the rusty gate to enter the Bosque, a place of refuge, for the cottonwoods and for me. Now I am surrounded by frost covered scrub and graceful matriarchs arc over my head. As I traverse the well – trodden path I enter a meditative state without effort. Soon I am walking in circle after circle passing through the same trees and desert scrub hearing voices.


During the winter months the trees barely whisper. Yet, as I focus on my steps, I have also opened my body to receiving without realizing it. And soon I sense quiet winter conversation occurring under my feet. Sugar, water and minerals are still being exchanged by Beings 400 million years old. Stronger healthier trees assist the young, dying trees offer the gift of their bodies to new life.


The understory that I call desert “scrub” is composed of Mexican privet, Chinese elms, Russian Olive trees, squawberry, wild roses, red willows, junipers, cattails, chamisa clumps, spikey rosettes, some wild grasses and a few perilous Cholla and Rabbit ear cacti. All these plants communicate through complex root systems and are actively engaged in relationship – and all these miracles are happening under my feet.


As I walk these circles I feel this underground presence keenly, and am comforted and enlivened by ancient plant, fungal, and animal existence. Although this Bosque has been pruned back and opened to the harsh white light of the summer sun, sacrificing precious moisture that the desert is deeply in need of due to increasingly severe drought, it still supports trees and scrub. And unlike so many other places there are young cottonwood trees growing here that will see another generation.


For now I am content to simply be part of what is.


The cold finally penetrates my senses breaking my meditative state. My feet are numb, my nose is running, my hands are frozen! I hurry to the creaking gate, closing it behind me, make a brief foray out onto the beach and climb the hill. The riot of pre-dawn crimson, pink, and gold has faded into a clouded sunrise, totally unremarkable. Only the river’s serpentine curves capture my attention because more riverbed has been exposed. I hope the fish are managing. It’s still too early to see the white –capped rocky mountains in the distance but no birds are present or stirring. This kind of cold keeps birds grounded with heads tucked underwing…


As I climb the last rise I laugh because in less than an hour I have become one with the desert scrub and Frau Holle, an old mythological Scandinavian goddess, one who controls the weather, especially during the winter. Like the silvery scrub I have been transformed by frost and like Frau Holle, I too have frozen white hair!




In some Scandinavian traditions, Frau Holle is known as the female spirit of the woods and plants. She is an old woman, sometimes called Old Mother Frost. Frau Holle controls the weather, and is also a seer – one who can read the future…

She was honored as the sacred embodiment of the earth in al her diversity. Interestingly Frau Holle’s birthday is December 25th.

Born Again


(author’s Cottonwood Portal)

“Let me sing to you about how people turn into other things.” (Ovid)

Years ago I placed my brother’s ashes in a shallow depression that I had dug near a granite fern and moss covered boulder. The brook flowed just a few feet away and at the last minute I scattered a few filaments over the shallow waters, returning them to the sea. A week later I planted a hazel nut tree nearby. A fossilized spiral ammonite marks my brother’s grave.

Thanks to the underground highway created out of millions of tree/plant roots, the extensive net of fungal hyphae and this communal system’s miraculous ability to exchange nutrients/minerals/sugar, my brother lives on as part of this forest…The gracefully spreading hazel and all the other trees (spruce, maple, balsam, hemlock, ash) that are scattered around this hallowed woodland grove have been nourished by the bones of one I loved.

Yet only recently have I been possessed by revelation.

I want to be buried under one of these trees so I can become one too. I spent my childhood living in a tree, was sheltered, fed, and loved by them as a young forlorn mother, and chose them as my closest companions (except for dogs and bears) when I built my small camp in the woods, and later my log cabin. By mid life the deep intimacy between us had flowered into articulation. What was happening to the trees was happening to me. Trees paved the road to eco – feminism.

I long to become a tree whose context is community, whose focus is on the whole, who lives on in a sacred form that is 400 million years strong.

Trees are also my relatives. Although we parted ways 1.5 billion years ago we share 25 percent of our DNA.

Everything about trees is about living in relationship to other beings. Trees shelter, feed, protect, create life out of death and ask for nothing in return.

Well not exactly nothing. Over the course of my life trees have taught me that they love to be loved. Of course, I am grateful to them for each breath I take, and for their extraordinary beauty, but mostly I love them because they exist. A life without trees is not one I would choose to live.

I think of all the rootlets – luminescent hyphae interpenetrating, nourishing, sending impulses, singing under ground. Almost daily I touch sturdy tree trunks that have provided me with support and deep abiding joy, comfort during times of distress. Sometimes, during the warmer months I listen to tree trunks making an almost imperceptible gurgling sound. The compounds that trees breathe out at night lower my stress level. My heart beats more slowly in response, in resonance with this night rhythm. I experience unimaginable aching beauty when trees are leafing out, birthing spiky top knots, coming into bloom while scenting the air with a perfume so sweet that it transports me into another realm. I lean into blessed tree shade during intolerable heat. Trees speak in tongues that I can feel or sense and sometimes utter a word or two in my own language. Is it any surprise that I am perpetually flooded with awe and wonder when it comes to trees?

No wonder I want to become one in my dying.

Tree conversation never ceases above or below. Just now because it is winter the tree’s sap, its sugary/mineral rich blood, barely trickles, though it still acts as nature’s antifreeze. The living tissue just below the bark, precious cambium, is lined with water so pure it doesn’t crystalize. Trees lean into the dark grateful to rest quietly as frost or snow covers bare branches or bends evergreen boughs to the ground. In the spring’s warming sun sap chants as it rises, flowing upward (defying gravity in the process) to the highest branches, the most delicate twigs, the sharpest tips of needles, causing the latter to bristle with new green growth. Flowers and leaves appear on deciduous trees. Pale yellow, orange or dusky brown pollen thickens the air with scent and purpose.

With adequate water trees will flourish all summer long photosynthesizing – producing bountiful amounts of oxygen as they breathe in poisonous carbon dioxide. Made of light, they transpire, offering clouds of steam, releasing precious moisture, compounds, and minerals into the air until autumn, when their life – blood begins its annual decent. Journeying back to their Source, withering leaves and needles begin to drift earthward (some needles, others scatter in early spring). Cascading leaves flutter to the ground, peppering the precious earth with the stuff of dying, twigs, uneaten fruits, seeds, and nuts, producing a layer of detritus soon to become nourishment for next year’s growth.

Seeds take root almost invisibly, seeking Earth’s warmth, minerals and other nutrients and most important – relationships with others – kinship begins beneath the surface of the soil.

Ah, to become a tree…

I will sleep and dream away the winter, bow respectfully as I wince in raging winds. Early spring brings my willow catkins into flower; blossoms that feed my much beloved and starving Black bears. Deer, and moose nibble my first twigs and buds. In the heat of the late spring sun I become tumescent, swelling buds that will produce flowers of every conceivable shape and color, those complex structures that will eventually bear fruit or seeds. Translucent lime green leaves appear and deepen into emerald. My scent is so sweet that bees seek me out and I thrive under their buzz and hum. As summer begins my leaves shower the earth in luminous dappled light shielding tender wildflowers from a sun too bright, too fierce. With the first clap of thunder I turn my thirsty leaves and stretch out my needles towards the life bringing rains. Birds who sought out the shelter of my branches to bear their young are feeding their hungry progeny. Woodpeckers hammer holes in some of my trunks for insects, creating new homes for others in the process. Flying squirrels and owls seek my protection from summer’s harsh brightness, the kind that outlasts the night. Wild bees burrow under my bark or under my feet. A myriad of insects like cicadas find homes in my canopies and sing cacophonous songs of praise at dusk. Wailing winds cease as I listen to a myriad of voices – the forest speaks.

To become a tree in a thriving  forest is an act of Natural Grace.

For me “becoming tree” means that something of who I am lives on – a “not I” who continues her work – feeding animals and birds, planting and nurturing more trees and plants – those same creatures and plants (and hopefully others) that have sustained me throughout my life. Learning. Inscribing. Evolving. Until the end. In this way “the not I” continues to serve life in a way that is meaningful to Nature as a whole.

Giving back what has been given without a price tag attached.

Just the thought brings me deep peace.

Recently, someone made a statement to me that felt like truth; “You have a pure heart.” Although I didn’t have the faintest idea what was meant by these words, some kind of resonance vibrated deeply throughout my body, spiraling me towards ‘home’. With awkward surprise I heard myself agreeing with this remark. Then understanding struck.

Every tree has a pure heart.

As long as trees continue to exist they will teach us that in every end there is a new beginning. Without Tree Presence, we are truly lost.


Navajo Night Chant



With Winter Moon’s passage and the approach of the winter solstice just a little more than a week away I am much aware of the (potential healing) dwelling place that I inhabit that also characterizes these dark months of the year.

Unfortunately, even those who acknowledge our seasonal turnings rarely honor the dark as sacred. At the winter solstice the emphasis is still on light.

As Carol Christ writes so succinctly we manage to celebrate light at both solstices – at its apex and as its return.

This attitude reveals to me an inability to be present to dark, in both its generative and non – generative aspects. The original inhabitants of this country honored the dark months of the year very differently than westerners do. Their most important ceremonies occurred during the winter months. Both aspects of the dark were acknowledged and explicated through ceremony. What follows is a history of one of the Navajo healing ceremonies that occurs only during the winter months of the year.

The Navajo Night Chant is part of Native American religious tradition. The history of Native American cultures dates back thousands of years into prehistoric times. According to many scholars, the people who became Native Americans migrated from Asia across a land bridge that may have once connected the territories presently occupied by Alaska and Russia. The migrations, believed to have begun between 60,000 and 30,000 B. C. E., continued until approximately 4,000 B. C. E. This perspective, however, conflicts with traditional stories asserting that the Indigenous Americans have always lived in North America or that tribes moved up from the south.

The historical development of religious belief systems among Native Americans is not well known. Most of the information available was gathered by Europeans who arrived on the continent beginning in the sixteenth century. The data they recorded was fragmentary and oftentimes of questionable accuracy because the Europeans did not understand the native cultures they were trying to describe and Native Americans were reluctant to divulge details about themselves.

The nine-night ceremony known as the Night Chant or Nightway is believed to date from around 1000 B. C. E., when it was first performed by the Indians who lived in Canyon de Chelly (now eastern Arizona). It is considered to be the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies and one of the most difficult and demanding to learn, involving the memorization of hundreds of songs, dozens of prayers, and several very complicated sand paintings. And yet the demand for Night Chants is so great that as many as fifty such ceremonies might be held during a single winter season, which lasts eighteen to twenty weeks.

The Navajo call themselves Diné, meaning” the people.” Their deities are known as the Holy People, and include Changing Woman, Talking God, the Sun, Earth, Moon, and Sky. Navajo religious practices emphasize healing rituals, in terms of curing diseases as well as healing relationships among all living things. (If ever we needed to embrace this idea it is now)

Like the Navajo Mountain Chant, the Night Chant is designed both to cure people who are ill and to restore the order and balance of human and non -human relationships within the Navajo universe. The two are not separated. Led by a trained medicine man who has served a long apprenticeship and learned the intricate and detailed practices that are essential to the chant, the ceremony itself is capable of scaring off sickness and ugliness through the use of techniques, some that shock or arouse. Once disorder has been removed, order and balance are restored through song, prayer, sand painting, and other aspects of the ceremony. It’s important to note that this is a multi-valent process.

Before the chant itself takes place, young children undergo a tribal initiation. After being stripped of their clothing and then struck with a yucca whip, young boys are allowed to see the “gods” (i.e., the dancers who impersonate the gods) without their masks for the first time. Girls are not whipped but rather touched with ears of corn covered with sprays of spruce.

On the day of the chant, crowds gather expectantly outside the lodge where rehearsals have been taking place. The outdoor area in which the ceremony will be held is cleared of spectators, and many fires are lit to take the chill out of the night air. The dancers, who represent the gods, are led in by the medicine man and the maternal grandfather of the gods, along a path of meal that has been laid down for them to follow. The patient emerges from the lodge, sprinkles the gods with meal from his or her basket, and gives each one tobacco. The medicine man intones a long prayer for the patient, repeating each phrase four times. At no time is the patient’s illness separated from the disharmony that occurs around him in Nature. Afterwards the four gods dance, moving rhythmically back and forth, hooting at the end to denote the gods’ approval.

The original Night Chant involved four teams who danced twelve times each with half-hour intervals in between-a total of ten hours. The dance movements involve two lines facing each other. Each of the six male dancers takes his female partner, dances with her to the end of the line, drops her there, and moves back to his own side. The chant itself is performed without variation and has a hypnotic effect on the listeners. The only relief is provided by the rainmaker-clown named Tonenili, who sprinkles water around and engages in other playful antics.

The medicine men who supervise the Night Chant insist that everything-each dot and line in every sand painting, each verse in every song, each feather on each mask-be arranged in exactly the same way each time the curing ceremony is performed or it will not bring about the desired result. There are probably as many active Night Chant medicine men today as at any time in Navajo history, due to the general increase in the Navajo population, the popularity of the ceremony, and the central role it plays in Navajo life and health.

There are typically twenty-four Nightway masks, although the ceremony can be performed with fewer. These masks are worn by the God Impersonators who perform the ritual dances. Some of these impersonators-Calling God, Gray God, Whistling God, Whipping God, and Humped back God among them-wear the masks of ordinary male gods with special ornaments attached at the time of the ceremony. Other masks include the yellow and blue Fringed Mouth of the Water mask, the Black and Red God masks, the Monster Slayer mask, the Talking God mask, and the Born for Water mask.

In addition to being worn by the God Impersonators who dance on the dramatic final night of the nine-day ceremony, the masks are vital to the application of many “medicines”. They also play a vital role in the initiation of the young. The masks of the female goddesses are actually worn by men, since women are not allowed to minister to the person for whom the chant is being sung.

The masks used in the Nightway ceremony are made of sacred buckskin, which must be obtained without shedding the animal’s blood. Buckskin is a symbol of life to the Navajo people.

The medicine man’s sacred bundle is made up of ceremonial items such as bags of pollen, feathers, stones, skins, pieces of mountain sheep horn, and a flint blade believed to belong to the god known as the Monster Slayer. The sacred bundle also includes gourd rattles and the sacred buckskin masks worn by the God Impersonators.

As in the Mountain Chant, sand paintings play an important role in the healing rituals of the Night Chant. Twelve different sand paintings are considered appropriate for the Nightway, of which a maximum of six are usually chosen: four large and two small. When healing personal illness the patient and his or her family normally have a say in which sand paintings are used. Each one is associated with a particular story and is accompanied by specific songs, prayers, and ceremonial procedures.

It is rarely the medicine man himself who makes the sand paintings, although he is responsible for overseeing their preparation. Usually his assistants do the actual painting, dribbling small amounts of colored sand through their fingers onto a smooth sand surface. The resulting works of art must be perfect; in other words, there can be no deviations from the design set down by the gods.

Every detail in each sand painting has a special meaning. Standard Nightway sand painting designs include First Dancers, Whirling Logs, Water Sprinklers, Fringed Mouth Gods, Black Gods, and Corn People.

The purpose of the sand paintings is to allow the recipient to absorb the powers depicted in the painting, often by sitting or sleeping on it. It is considered wrong-if not downright dangerous-to reproduce these sand paintings in any way, since they might attract the attention of the gods to a situation where no real healing is intended.

That these healings “work” within the Navajo Universe which includes all of Nature makes sense to me because one is not separated from the other.

Here are two brief excerpts of the Night Chant that I particularly like.

The first addresses the need to restore balance and harmony to a soul, spirit, body that has been diseased or left alone to deal with bad feelings that others have projected (arrows of harm) because they cannot own their own feelings, or because of a collective need to blame, two aspects of the same problem. What I like best is that there is an acknowledgement that there are gods and people who can create this psychic/physical darkness but that acknowledging this powerful personal/ mystical/mythological reality can shift both the personal and the resulting discord experienced by Nature into One of Peace.

There is also an element of absolute trust that this is so…

Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
This very day remove your spell from me.
Your spell you have removed from me.

You have taken it away for me.
Far away it has gone.


This second excerpt addresses the healing that occurs for the individual in the context of the whole of Nature,


Peacefully may I walk.
Peacefully, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Peacefully with abundant showers, may I walk.
Peacefully, with abundant plants, may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant trees, may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant birds may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant animals may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.

As it was long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful all around me.

In Beauty may I walk

In Beauty it is finished.”


I find that writing about this ritual has a healing effect on me. It’s as if the writing brings the ritual to life in some non – ordinary way – and so it may be.

White Rabbit Moon



I live in the shadow

of a rabbit

who was murdered

by the dark side

of the moon –

the one whose hooded face,

whose back is always

full of gnashing teeth.

Intolerable grief leaves

my weeping body

a place too painful

to inhabit.

Intolerable loss

steals the last shreds

of hope.

Yet the longing

to be reunited

with my children

lives on.

(Photo credit – Lynn Rogers -Winter Moon or White Rabbit Moon – moon of reversals)Cold Moon DSC_3070 12-11-19 7PM.jpg

The Circle of Life and Death



This morning the sky was on fire before dawn even as I approached the river whose ripples reflected a purple so deep it was almost inked in charcoal – In the Bosque I noticed that one mule deer had used a juniper to scrape his antlers. Otherwise the Earth emanated precious predawn stillness except for the sound of receding river waters slipping over cobbled stones. It was mild; I thought today might be the day…


The greens I had tipped in prayer and gratitude on ‘the mountain where bears live’ were waiting to be woven into wreaths, and by afternoon the temperature was warm enough for me to sit on the porch under a milky December sun with my clippers and bag of greens.


The sweet scent of pinion wafted through the air as I began to weave my circle of life with pinion, fir, and spruce. I wove carefully cutting smaller fronds without thinking about what I was doing, but beneath my quiet mind an intention was being set to weave a new kind of wholeness back into the trees, back into our broken Earth; S/he who is crying out to be heard through each raging fire, crackling drought, mud ridden flood. My greatest fear is that no one is listening.


My intention is that I will listen; I will be present for the trees.


Frequently in dreams I hear the screams of trees being slaughtered, cut away from their loved ones, left alone to die without adequate nourishment, water, or support.


Here in New Mexico the cottonwoods suffered so in last year’s drought that I wept over them, never imagining that my holy place, a cathedral created from a few graceful cottonwood arms that stretched all the way to the ground would end up being ruthlessly severed and h left on the ground as a pile of useless dead limbs. I raged and sorrowed then, helpless in the face of slaughter, even after I had a dream that in the distance a whole cottonwood spread her bountiful branches over the desert floor. I was grateful the tree soul lived on, but I was grieving my loss.


One day about a month ago as I walked under these Matriarchs in the now parched Bosque, the cottonwoods nudged me to bring one of their broken peeled arms back to my dwelling place and to create something out of it. As I followed directions I discovered I was constructing a memorial to honor the dead. Another dream came; this one reinforced the truth that I must honor all trees, but that I needed to focus on all those that were dead or dying.


Finally I understood that the loss of my cottonwood cathedral might have been making the same point.


For many years I have been reverencing all trees at this darkest time of the year with an emphasis on evergreens because they symbolized the continuation of all life. And in my world each tree I revered became a “Tree of Life.” Weaving my wreaths in their honor was and remains an act of heartfelt prayer. Up until the present hope for a more wholesome, peaceful future has always been attached to my ‘tree of life’ prayers.


But this year it is different. The Earth is on Fire and I must seek a larger context – one that includes the death of all trees and Nature herself.


As Terry Tempest Williams states we “must feel the pain of now and not look away.”


I promise the trees I will do my best to stay present for their anguish, knowing that what I do for them I do for me.


It is hard to admit that I can no longer imagine what I can do to change any outcome – theirs or mine – we are that enmeshed.


I wove the above intention into my wreath and then brought it in. After placing the circle of greens on a small table I lit the wreath up in green and blue lights to honor both Earth and Sky. Life and Death. As I stood over the wreath, the scent of all the boughs filled me with a profound sense of peace.

Carol Christ… celebrating the dark

Can We Celebrate the Dark? Can We Sleep? by Carol P. Christ

According to Marija Gimbutas, the religion of Old Europe celebrated the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Agricultural peoples understand that seeds must be kept in a cold dark place during the winter if they are to sprout when planted in the spring. People who work hard during the long days that begin in spring, peak at midsummer, and continue through the fall, are grateful for the dark times of the year when they can rest their weary bones on long winters’ nights. Long winters’ nights are a time for dreams, a time when people gather around the hearth fire to share songs and stories that express their understanding of the meaning of the cycles of life.

The Indo-Europeans were not an agricultural people. Herders, nomads, and horseback riders, they celebrated the shining Gods of the Sky whose power was reflected in their shining bronze armor and shining bronze weapons. When the Indo-European speaking peoples entered into a Europe, they married their Sun and Sky Gods to the Earth Mother Goddesses of the people they conquered. These were unequal marriages in which the Sun was viewed as superior to the Earth. The unhappy marriage of Hera and Zeus reflects this pattern, as do the many rapes of Goddesses and nymphs recorded in Greek and Roman mythology.

The elder Goddesses who refused rape and marriage were relegated to the dark crevices of the earth, which were viewed as the entrance to the underworld. These “chthonic” Goddesses emerged from under the earth in fury, causing death and destruction. For the Old Europeans, the snakes that emerged from crevices in rocks in the springtime were harbingers of renewal and regeneration. Like seeds, they slept in a cold dark place over the winter but emerged in spring to shed their skins and lay their eggs. The underworld was understood to be a place of transformation—not as it would later become, a place of death and destruction. The snake was a symbol of regeneration, not a symbol of evil.

According to Marija Gimbutas, white was the color of death in Old Europe, while black was the color of transformation and renewal of life. The Old Europeans understood life to be cyclic. Every thing would surely die, but just as surely life would be reborn. It was the Indo-Europeans who taught us that death is an ending to be feared. And it was they who taught us that light is to be revered and darkness to be avoided at all costs. It was they who developed the light-dark binary in which white is positive and black is negative. The Indo-Europeans entered into India as well as Europe. The notion of en-lighten-ment found in Hinduism and Buddhism is a legacy of the light-dark binary of the Indo-Europeans. The Indo-Europeans were lighter-skinned than the people they conquered: thus the light-dark binary could be used to justify the dominance of the lighter-skinned warriors and kings.

The light-dark binary is pervasive in the New Age focus on light and love. There is nothing “new” in that! Those who follow earth-based spiritual paths often claim to celebrate the darkness equally with the light. But do we? Or are we still in thrall to the Indo-European glorification of white and light? We celebrate the longest day at midsummer and the longest night at midwinter. And yet there remains a difference. At midwinter we rejoice in “the return of the light.” There is no parallel celebration of “the return of the dark” at midsummer. Rather it seems that we celebrate the light at both midsummer and midwinter.

What would it mean to embrace and celebrate the darkness as much as the light? If we allowed ourselves to sleep all through the longest nights, what dreams might come? Could we learn again that the cycle of life comes in threes: birth, death, and regeneration? Not in twos: good and evil, life and death, black and white. darkness and light?

We might begin by getting “a good night’s sleep” on these long winter nights. I think our bodies might begin to show us and to tell us that the darkness really is as important as the light.

Winter Solstice Drama



Last year I attended a bonfire on the night of the winter solstice at a friend’s house. As my companion and I walked towards the ledge where the fire had been the year before we were both astonished. Where was everybody? We stood in the dark confused. Minutes passed.


After suggesting we leave, my companion remarked with annoyance, “What the hell is going on here?” A Rhetorical question. I sure didn’t know.


Sudden hooting split the night and some dissonant musical sounds seemed to be coming from out of the bushes below us.


Following the sounds we descended the steep hill and discovered that the fire was at the river’s edge, and that a few people were already gathered there.


Unbeknownst to either of us the location had changed, and from our vantage point on the hill we couldn’t see the fire or hear any sounds. I had been looking forward to this celebratory turning, and liked the idea of sharing it with friends. Yet, now I felt uneasy.


As I recall, there were noise makers (?) but what stuck in my mind was my sense of confusion. Was this some sort of joke being played on us, and if so why? The anguish I felt was palpable. I barely remember the rest of the evening. I felt completely shut out and took refuge by staring into the flames of the fire, ending the evening by giving a solstice gift to my friend.


The next day I believe, I felt compelled to write to my friend to tell her how upset I was over what I perceived had happened. I love this woman, and consider her a soul sister.


She seemed as deeply distressed as I was. And when we spoke, cried, and hugged all at once, it immediately seemed clear that she assumed that we would know that the location of the fire had been changed because of a recent fire that had broken out further down the Bosque, and that no joke of any kind had been intended. I was so relieved to let the whole thing go.


My perception and that of my companion’s had apparently been totally distorted.


I took full responsibility for the distortion.


But I was floored.


I became a psychologist because I am a person who needs to root out underlying truths. I am like the proverbial dog with a bone, unable to put down an issue until I have unraveled it – even if it takes years. No dream came to me to help me unravel this conundrum. I have been sitting with it for a year, and have used the incident twice to demonstrate to others how perception can be skewed in ways that sometimes appear incomprehensible.


The closest I can come to an explanation for this drama will be difficult for most folks to comprehend, let alone accept. I have been a ritual artist for almost 40 years and have participated both alone and with others in these eight yearly turnings of the wheel and know from countless personal experiences that extraordinary happenings can and do occur during these times of what I call “natural power”. Sometimes these energies move in a positive direction and sometimes they move in reverse. I think what happened that solstice night was an example of winter solstice energies constellating around a gathering in a negative way. Everyone was apparently impacted. That fact combined with the astounding synchronicity that my companion and I experienced – the weird sense of being tricked in some way – gives credence to this explanation. Stunning synchronicity, is in my experience, almost always associated with these forces of natural power that can manifest for good or for ill.


When I brought up coming to the fire this year I was astonished to learn that it was assumed by everyone that I would not want to attend because of my experience last year. Since I believed the matter had been put to rest between us I was bewildered by this assumption. When my friend and I discussed this unfortunate experience she wanted reassurance that this kind of dissonance would not occur again at this year’s fire. “Everyone had gotten hurt,” she said. This remark surprised me because up until now I had assumed that this issue was between us and didn’t really involve others. I realized I was not clear why these people were so upset. I didn’t even know one of them. It wasn’t as if I said anything to anyone else. Still, I was only too happy to reassure her.


But her remark about everyone being so hurt gave me a clue. Apparently everyone had been negatively impacted? When?


When I hung up the phone that I heard that nagging inner voice saying ‘you are assuming too much responsibility for this incident’. My telepathic bird Lily b started bellowing.


Whatever happened that night may remain a mystery but I believe that all of us were unwitting players in the dark side of a winter solstice drama.


Postscript 12/28/19: When I published this piece I had just received information I hadn’t had time to process. Others were upset???  I had said nothing to anyone at the fire; I spoke to my friend privately believing that the issue involved a problem between the two of us. I desperately wanted to clear things up and thought we had. I missed the obvious. Others were “upset” because my friend had revealed my private feelings to them after the night of the fire…an action on her part that simply hadn’t occurred to me. And the general assumption made by others that ‘I would not choose to be involved in a solstice fire again this year’ had everything to do with everyone else’s undealt with feelings while I was the one who was still being blamed for what happened one year ago. Wow. Now it all made sense.  I still conclude that the dark side of the solstice was operating that night and afterwards. Unowned feelings and an unwillingness to talk about them honestly (on the part of others) made things worse. Sadly, I  have been carrying full responsibility for this baffling incident for an entire year when others were culpable too.



This morning on my walk the word reparation floated through my mind as I listened to rippling river waters…

What does it mean to make reparation for an injustice done? One dictionary definition suggests that reparation involves making amends. To reweave the circle, to repair the rent, that is a hole made by tearing apart what once was whole, seems like an image and thought worth pondering especially during these dark winter months that encourage self – reflection and dreaming (but are also rife with declarations of ‘love’ usually expressed as a commodity).

We all make mistakes. Most are not intentional, yet they can inadvertently cause great harm; in some cases these mistakes destroy relationships.

It seems to me that we all have choices here. We can make a decision (set a clear intention) not to allow the past to determine our future. This does not mean that we don’t hold a person accountable for his/her actions. We must, in order to stay present to the truth that we were harmed by another person’s behavior intentional or not.

However, we can still make a choice to remember that we were hurt and still let go. Of course, this is a process, and depending upon the depth of the pain inflicted, it may take a very long time to move through that dark tunnel. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Becoming stuck in anger, or feeling victimized blocks letting go. It is critically important to feel those feelings, but at the same time, not to allow them to drive future interactions with those we care about.

If a breach of trust has occurred then this loss of trust must be taken very seriously because relationships are so complex and fragile and so dependent upon this feeling to flourish.

How do we go about healing a breach of trust? In my way of thinking, acknowledging that we broke the trust of another must come first.

Re-establishing friendly contact by focusing on common ground is helpful in some cases.

But the most important aspect of this healing involves changing our behavior – repeated apologies without demonstrating to the other person that we care enough about them to alter our actions – when words are not followed by actions – apologies becomes meaningless. It is relatively easy to say we are sorry, it is much more difficult to begin to re – establish trust by shifting our behavior. It is worth repeating that trust is forged from the ground up, and the building blocks of the temple of meaningful relationship must rest on a foundation of trust.

When we harm or are harmed by another it is helpful to know that our actions no matter how egregious don’t have to determine the future, and that with intention, attention, patience, and persistence, our damaged relationships can be healed.

IMG_3398.JPGUltimately, forgiveness may be the gift offered without reservation to those who are willing to do this most challenging work.

Mule Deer


I come from an area in Maine where the prolific Whitetail deer bed down around my house during the winter, birth their fawns in the spring in my wildlife sanctuary, roam around my field in female dominated groups with young during the summer. It isn’t until fall that I usually meet the bucks coming in to feed on the sweet wild apples outside my window. My point here is that although I never take their presence for granted, interacting with deer is simply part of my life.

When I first moved down by the river in Abiquiu, I used to see mule deer early in the predawn hours outside the Trailercita. Sometimes I would startle one or two when I walked in the Bosque and noted that both elk and mule deer bedded down in wild grasses making a circular depression much the way a dog will do before it sleeps.

After I moved into the Casita and began to walk down to the river every morning in the twilight hours I would often meet deer in the next field or on the island. I also tracked them through the Bosque surprising one or two occasionally. I didn’t realize until this fall how much seeing these animals made me feel at home.

When I returned to Abiquiu in September I immediately noticed that the deer were no longer bedding down in the Bosque. After being here for almost three months I have yet to glimpse the sight of even one mule deer. The loss of these ungulates disturbs me greatly. Where have they gone?

Just last week I noticed a deer scrape in the Bosque and tracked one mule deer, and one elk that had traversed the path and jumped the fence onto a more thickly vegetated area.

Because November marks the beginning of the rut the males are on the move and some are also beginning to shed their racks of antlers. I keep a sharp eye on the two junipers that are missing branches in the Bosque to see if more bark has been denuded, but as far as I can tell only one mule deer seems to be responsible for the scrape (elk don’t shed antlers until early spring). I just wish I could get a glimpse of one of these beautiful animals once more…

The single defining characteristic of mule deer is their large ears, which are about three-fourths the length of the head. They have a distinctive black forehead, or mask, that contrasts with a light gray face. In the summer, mule deer are tannish-brown and in the winter are brown and gray in color. They have a white rump patch and a small white tail with a black tip. When running, they bound – all four hooves push off the ground at the same time. Although this leaping slows them down, it allows them to leave predators behind by quickly ascending steep slopes or jumping unpredictably over large obstacles. Their large, keen eyes and ears allow them to locate distant predators like coyotes and wolves.

Mule deer range from 3 to 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder, 4.5 to 7 feet long, and have a tail that is five to eight inches long. They can weigh between 130 and 280 pounds. Like other species of deer, the females are smaller than the males.

These animals are among the most beloved and iconic wildlife of the American West. Mule deer are found especially in the Rocky Mountain region of North America. They are adapted to arid, rocky environments and thrive in habitats that have a combination of early-stage plant growth, mixed-species plant communities, and diverse and extensive shrub growth. A mixture of plant communities provides better forage than any single species. Plants that are young and emerging are more nutritious than mature trees and shrubs. I can’t help wondering if this need for young and intermediate plant growth is one reason why these grazing animals are disappearing from the Bosque now that so much of it has been opened up and cut.

Mule deer are very selective feeders, nibbling on herbaceous plants and the leaves and twigs of woody shrubs. Instead of eating large quantities of low-quality feed like grass, they must select the most nutritious plants and parts of plants. Because of this, mule deer have more specific forage requirements than elk that share their habitat.

Between November and January (depending on the locality), bucks lock antlers competing for the right to mate with females. The victorious male attract females to them and attempt to defend them against the attention of other (often younger) bucks. Sexual maturity is attained at the age of about 18 months in does, but young males are barred from participation in the rut until they are three to four years old.

The gestation period is approximately 200 to 210 days and occurs during the summer. The female sequesters herself and gives birth in a protected spot, where the spotted fawn remains for a period of a week or 10 days before it is strong enough to follow the mother. It is during this period that the young are most vulnerable to predation. The young ones are weaned at about the age of 60 or 75 days, at which time they begin to lose their spots. Mule deer usually live 9 to 11 years in the wild.

In some areas the mule deer will have separate summer and winter ranges, with a migratory path connecting them. In the mild climates they will not migrate. They live in small groups of three to five individuals.

During he winter larger groups often come together to feed. It appears that the females have a small home range, living out their lives close to the areas where they were born, while the males migrate longer distances. I have noted the same tendency with respect to Whitetails.

For decades, western Colorado has been home to some of the country’s largest mule deer herds. Herds in a portion of northwestern Colorado were once so prolific that the area was dubbed “the mule deer factory.”

Unfortunately, I also discovered that overall Mule deer populations have been dropping across the west for several years, which also may account for my seeing less of them. State wildlife managers and wildlife groups are trying to determine what’s behind the decline. It amazes me that climate change is not mentioned as a factor. Naturally, shrinking habitat due to development including that of increased oil and gas drilling is also a factor contributing to the decrease of this species. The renowned White River herd in northwest Colorado has plummeted from more than 100,000 in the early 1980s to the current estimate of 32,000 deer according to the National Wildlife Federation. From this naturalists point of view a loss of two thirds of any deer population anywhere is cause for deep concern.