Learning from the land; "crying for luck."


"Thinking is a personal obligation for one seeking knowledge: 'I can't learn for you, can I?' Harry Roberts used to ask.  While mainstream academic training stresses didactic explanation-teachers telling students what to think, trained native people/people in training tend to view explanation as a mode of interference with another's purpose in life, comparable to theft, 'stealing a person's opportunity to learn.' A younger Yurok man who has trained hard says, 'If you explain everything to a person you take away their purpose for being here.  Why did they come? There are two of them now, and neither has a purpose for being here.' Today the transmission of esoteric knowledge has become strained by the fact of the 'missing generation' that came of age in the 1930s and 40s, often educated in federal boarding schools, often raised as Christians.  At home their parents, discouraged and feeling that 'it just didn't pay to be Indian' tended not to teach them what they knew, even discouraging (traditional) learning. This has made it imperative for younger people who seek traditional knowledge to be more aggressive in ferreting it out from increasingly fewer knowledgeable elders and from books as well, and some worry that it has decreased the experiential emphasis in traditional learning, increasing the didactic." Standing Ground; Yurok Indian Spirituality 1850-1990.

The above paragraph rings true on an intensely personal level.  My exposure to Yurok traditions was having a Grandfather who was a cultural practitioner and was not ashamed to be Indian; to be "Pue-lik-lo'." My Father married a white woman after WW2, my mother, and she never spoke of our heritage. My Father rarely spoke of it around home, my mother, or town; "it didn't pay to be Indian."  But my Grandfather lived up at Wecpus.  And, my Grandfather lived his 'indian-ness' with pride.  Even my Father became "Indian" again every summer when we'd go to spend the warm months with him.  Just being around my Grandfather, I learned who I clearly was. I learned about the land and about the spirits.  And because of him, my son and grandchildren will know who they are too.

So I learned about things from my grandfather but my understanding was in bits and pieces. And then, mid life, I spent 8 years in a sacred site, totally alone, and learned from the spirits of place and path.  I learned from the land. And for 8 years I "cried for luck" (knowledge and visions). For 8 years I vision quested as much as I physically could.  And I ran the hills in Hokep (training). I smoked a lot of tobacco (Hohkum), always sharing half with the Creator. In solitude, I pushed my body and stretched my mind.  I called out to the spirits. And yes, they answered; they answered a lot.  I was "never" alone out there, though I was "alone." I have never felt more loved as I found myself followed by wildlife and with random synchronicity led to more spirit seats and prayer beds and even-- burial places to contemplate.

"For many following the old ways today, specific things in nature-certain rocks, mountains, plants are themselves spirits, once personified.  However, individuals think and speak of the 'spirituals' or of spirit, they speak of something sentient and alert, something or someone or many 'unseen Beings' that they can talk to that will listen and respond, if addressed correctly.  That correctness, the openness of heart, often, is signaled by tears. The steep mountains rising out of the Klamath River Canyon, coming closest to the sky and being farthest from the pollution of human habitiation, are where the spiritual forces are most accessible and where people go, after suitable training and preparation, to talk with them." Standing Ground; Yurok Spirituality 1850-1990. 

Severed Hand is in Siskiyou County and many miles from the Klamath but it has the fingerprints of the Wo'gas teachings (Beings who created the land before people and then went up into the rocks and became spirits we can still talk with.)  The prayer beds and Tseksels (spirit seats) are the same.  And if you want to speak to a Wogey, you'll find them in the high places of Northern California, still there, waiting for a person who "walks in beauty." Meaning, you must be prepared.  Traditionals would go without food and water, abstain from sex, and were sure to mentally and physically train first.  They put their "hearts" into a good place; they called it a "pure" place.  It was then, the Wo'gas would take them under their wing.

"If a person wants to tell me something, let him come up into the hills and stay all night.  Let him take tobacco with him, and angelica root, only those two." --------"Then I shall answer him if he calls my name; but if he does not do that, I shall not answer him; and if I answer him he will have what he tells me he wants." (Mack of Wecpus, in Kroeber 1976-2911)

But our ancestors are right; there is nothing like learning from the land.  The visions and experiences I had within the sacred landscape took me back to my roots completely. They changed me in ways that are inexplicable.  And the spirits were sympathetic and patient; I couldn't even do traditional sweat house. I had no one to help me.  So, I carried wood in a sacred way, as best I could and each time, I'd sing and climb higher and higher up the trails.  I would spend time in visionary states while high on the rock ledges and would travel in spirit to many places. It was as if the spirits took pity on me, struggling to learn and walk in a sacred way. And, they began to teach and speak in the old metaphoric language of the land, once called "Wogey Speak." To our ancestors this is a symbolic language where everything has a meaning.  Each bird represents, different kinds of weather represent,  different animals represent-- different stones and rocks represent-- "meanings."  Just like words, but they are glyphs; living glyphs.  Once one learns this symbolic language called "Wogey Speak" of which the Old People and Medicine People  understood, understanding can take place between the human being and the spirits. Nature has a language I was always told.  For me, personally, it's true. My Grandfather used to say the Blue Jay reminds us not to gossip.  The Eagle brings strength.  He had many other examples of "the language" but that is another post.

The Hopi people, all the way in the four corners, call sacred sites "Spots of the Fawn." Places where the forces as well as the spirits are stronger. They too, say to go out into the land to learn from the spirits directly as do all native cultures.  So you see, though we may have lost much in the 1850s with "the end of the world days," the time when the settlers came, or we may have lost much from family who shunned their Indian-ness, but we have not lost all.  The spirits and the land, are still there, waiting to talk story with us. 

As they say, never let a "human" person steal your opportunity to learn.  Go out into the land and let the Wo'gas teach you-- as they have since the beginning of time. 

Adisi Waya