I wrote this piece after taking an Aboriginal Studies course a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it. Comments are welcome! As always, all my writing is copyright to me, Susan (Sue) McCaskill.
A few years ago, I enrolled in a credit course in Aboriginal Studies. Little did I know that that course would have an immense impact on my spiritual life. My instructor, Louise Milburn, an Anishinabe Elder, Pipe carrier and LodgeKeeper, no more looked Native than I do, being endowed with huge Irish blue eyes, pale skin, and a mop of dark brown curly hair. During the course of the class, she discovered I was Wiccan, and asked many questions about my philosophy and beliefs. What I told her seemed to satisfy her, for she asked me to cense the classroom with Sage and Sweetgrass, and give me the incredible honour of allowing me to use her eagle feather wing for the ritual.
All too soon, the class was over, but to my surprise and delight, Louise invited me to a healing circle at Tsow Tun Le Lum, an addiction and recovery centre for First Nations, up island. Of course, I accepted, and on the day, we all piled into an old school bus and set out. It was not a prepossessing day, as it was pouring rain, but we were all in good spirits, and laughed and sang the whole way. Upon our arrival at the centre, we were warmly welcomed by the residents, and any concern I had about being the only white person there, were soothed. Louise introduced me and said I was Wiccan but I had a Native soul. We were invited to partake of lunch, which was delicious, and then taken to private rooms where we could meditate on the upcoming ceremony, and cleanse our bodies also. When the sun set, we were called together, and proceeded to the ritual site. There was a huge bonfire, around which the “grandmothers” were warming.
“Grandmothers” is what First Nations call their drums, and they are given the same respect. We were invited to set ours by the fire also and then we proceeded to the sweat lodge. This was the West Lodge, the one Louise was the Keeper of, and she had already placed hot rocks inside. The women went first and the heat was incredible, but it was nothing compared to the steam that arose when Louise poured water over! We were told that the sweat cleanses body and soul and sometimes brings out buried feelings and emotions. I found myself thinking of a situation I had been in some 40 years ago, and felt the tears well in my eyes. Louise told me to let all go, as it was part of the healing process. I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, and felt like howling, which I did. Now, anyone who knows me, knows I am normally very self-contained, which I suppose is a protective mechanism. In this group, though, I felt safe and accepted and it felt right to let all my negative feelings go. We were in the Lodge for about 30 minutes, and she pulled out her Pipe and lit it, passing it to her left sunwise. All of us took a puff, and this communal act seemed to bring us all closer. We then stepped out of the Lodge into the cold, clear night air, for the rain had stopped and the sky was clear. Lady Moon shone full overhead illuminating the forest around us, and we sat in a circle around the fire while the men did their sweat. When we were all assembled, Louise explained what was about to happen. The elders would chant and play their drums, and we were to do what we felt was right for us. The drums started up like a steady heart beat; boom boom boom, boom, boom boom boom, and the elders started a Journey chant.
We all stood, and I closed my eyes, feeling the drums in my heart and the chants in my soul. It felt right to move my feet, first kind of shuffling and then in a pattern. Suddenly, it was as if I were watching from outside my body. There was a being that looked like me, but was yet other. This being wore buckskin, bare feet, black wings, tinged with white, and a Raven’s headpiece. I/it danced around fire, bending first one way, and then the next. In a flash, I was back in my/its body and feeling the dance, feeling I was Raven, feeling at one with the fire, the drums, the chants, and the night. I felt no exhaustion, felt I could go on forever, but suddenly, the drumming and chanting stopped, and so did I/it, but not before I had a vision of a huge white star going supernova, and then collapsing. I felt completely drained, but completely happy and at home with myself, something I hadn’t felt in years.
When I spoke to Louise about my experience, she told me her people believe they come from the stars and call themselves “Star People.” She said that Raven had taken over my body because I needed something to belong to, and that I had many of Raven’s traits; tricksterism being one of them, and that he was also a symbol of Magic. She said I needed a new name to commemorate my journey. She named me Raven Winterhawke, and gave me her Elder’s blessing.
Even now, every time I think of what happened that night, I get goosebumps and the tears start to flow. In my 60 odd years, I have experienced many things that have affected me, but nothing before or since has impacted or changed me as that dance with Raven in the Healing Circle.