Red Bird and Sky Woman, Part Five
A Journey Into the Deep Past
In the last installment, the Red Bird family had entered one of the teaching caves in the shamanic West. These caves are places where souls of the dead receive teachings meant for them, but which, for various reasons, they were not able to receive during during the lifetime they have just left. These souls remain in these caves until the teachings have been received and fully integrated before they move on in their journey towards reincarnation. Souls remain in these teachings caves for varying lengths of time, depending upon how many teachings they need to receive.
I didn't have long to wait for the Red Birds to receive and fully integrate the teachings they needed, for two months later, Red Bird came to me in a dream. Vital, glowing with health and well being, his wisdom and power evident in his regal bearing, he told me the time had come for him and his family to move on. I contacted Moon Dancer, who was to watch over me as I did this journey, for engaging in shamanic psychopomp work for souls in the very distant past, which I would now do for Red Bird and his family, was a far more dangerous thing to do than anything I had done for them previously.
This time Moon Dancer did not drum for me. She needed to be on guard, watching over me as I journeyed, so that she could dispel any death energy that tried to attach itself to me. I would drum myself into the right level of shamanic trance for this work while she watched over me. Once again I was dressed in ceremonial regalia, but had added sage-filled anklets and wristlets to my costume for added protection. Now I will do as Moon Dancer did when she told you her part of the story, and describe what I saw and heard in this journey in the present tense.
The door to my shaman room is shut and locked, the windows shaded, the atmosphere dim. One window is open, for I have just completed a lengthy smudge ceremony. Sage smoke still swirls about the room, creating spiraling patterns. I shut the window, and pick up my drum.
After several minutes of drumming and singing, I am no longer aware of the physicality of drumming, or of my surroundings, for I have become my dream body, that part of the psyche that separates from the physical body to venture into shamanic reality. In that form, I move swiftly into the forest outside my home, and make my way to the medicine wheel, where I clap stones together to announce my intent to enter it. A sudden breeze rushes clockwise around the wheel. Yes, I may enter. Singing my shamanic identity song, I approach the center stone, offering sacred herbs, and continue on around the medicine wheel, singing and offering herbs to each direction from east to north, where I pause before the white quartz stone that identifies it. I continue singing until I see the transparent opening into the shamanic north that my song has created. I walk directly through the opening and enter the frozen, transparent tunnel that leads directly into the shamanic North.
Quickly arriving there, I walk through the great snowfields of that midnight landscape until I reach the Crystal Mountain at its heart, where I call for my Warrioress. I see a glow in the Crystal Mountain and an opening into a cave appears.
My Warrioress self, She Who Fears Nothing, strides out, buckling a sword around her waist. She joins me and I see that she seems preoccupied. I ask her why this is.
She says, “What we’re about to do is dangerous work and it’s weighing heavily on me. But you began it, so we must complete it. I am ready. Are you?”
“Yes,” I say, noting that she’s totally in command of herself, fully focused on the work to come. We walk together towards the White Sea of the north. She pulls out a canoe from a small cave there, and we climb into it. In cases like this, I usually take on the form of my Warrioress, but can’t make it happen now. I ask Warrioress why we are remaining separate.
“To keep you safe,” she says, “in case I pick up any death energy.”
“Well,” I ask, “if that happens, will you be able to clear it?”
“Of course,” she says, “but you...you need to stay back, to bear witness only, because this is somewhat beyond what your calling is.”
I agree. Then I notice that although we’re separate, I’m dressed exactly like her, in a long white buckskin dress, white fur boots and jacket, sword at waist, circular leather pouch around my neck. We wear headdresses of white owl feathers.
Once in the canoe, we paddle due south toward the center of shamanic reality, and although we greet Sea Turtle upon our arrival there, we turn sharply to the west, and continue on by ourselves.
We paddle over the Black Sea of the shamanic west, which is surprisingly calm, glassy almost. Arriving at the coast of the west without incident we beach the canoe and walk into its desert landscape. My shamanic ally, the one who assists me in dealing with instances of sorcery, appears and tells me that he will go before us, as what really caused the attack on Red Bird’s family was the sorcery of a rival shaman, from which Warrioress and I must be protected.
He is fierce, wearing a Raven costume, with huge raven wings attached to his arms.
He hops along in front of us, like a Raven hops, sweeping the air with the wings as he goes. Sparkling light cascades toward earth from the wings as he moves, creating a tunnel of golden light through which we follow him. At last we see the Red Bird Family in the distance. They have left the teaching cave, and now stand near the entrance to the Death Passage.
My ally moves towards them, dancing and shape-shifting from his human form into his Raven form and back again. Huge now, he dances round and round the Red Birds, beating the air with his wings, enveloping the entire family in the golden light created by his movements. When he is done he returns to Warrioress and me, and stands before us, with his wings outspread.
“Sing Red Bird's grieving song again,” he says, “and bear witness. Let them know you’re here even though they can’t see you.”
I sing the song over and over, assuring the Red Birds that I will not forget them, that I will tell their story, so that any of their descendants or relatives who need to know what happened to them may perhaps come upon the story and so discover the truth about why and how they disappeared so long ago.
Hi nah yah hi yah nah ha
I know the Red Birds can hear me singing, because they sing the chant back. As we continue singing the chant back and forth, the flock of cardinals that had settled into the brush outside the teaching cave flies above the little family, round and round. Now more and more cardinals, hundreds of them, join the flock, enveloping the Red Birds within a protective cocoon of living feathers which floats slowly towards the entrance of the Death Passage.
I cannot see through the cloud of fluttering feathers whether or not the Red Bird's are dancing…I think they are, but it’s not a triumphant kind of death dance, like most I’ve witnessed. Rather, it seems sedate and formal. I hear rhythmic footsteps, but the rhythm is not that of the kinds of death dances I’ve borne witness to many times before. The procession moves steadily north, approaching and entering the death passage without hesitation. My ally uses his great wings to seal the entrance behind them with golden light. He then turns to us.
“You must turn around immediately,” he says, “and walk back before me, through the golden tunnel of light I made for you earlier. Follow it all the way back to your canoe, while I close the energy behind you. That way you will be kept safe.”
We slowly make our way back to the canoe, the whooshing sound of my ally's great wings stirring the air behind us as he closes down the tunnel of light.
When we arrive at the black sand beach of the coastline again, I step towards him, intending to hug him as usual, but he steps back, telling me it’s not safe to touch him. He tells me that there was much bad medicine directed at the Red Bird family. He doesn’t want me to pick up any of it, and will do a cleansing ceremony for himself after Warrioress and I have left.
Fully assuming his human form, he says to us, “Before you leave, bathe in the Black Sea, here in the shallows, and you will leave behind you any bad energy you may have picked up.”
I offer him a beautiful copper arm circlet, which I lay on the ground before him. He stoops to pick it up, thanking me. Then he turns and disappears into the desert twilight.
Warrioress and I wade into the cool, iridescent water of the Black Sea, totally immersing ourselves in it, something I’ve never done before. When we resurface, phosphorescence dances about us. Glowing with it, we get back into the canoe, and paddle through a completely calm Black Sea to the Center, then turn due north. The White Sea of the north is calm as well, stunningly beautiful in the light of the full moon. We paddle slowly through it, reaching the stony coast of the North without incident. I help Warrioress put the canoe away and walk a short distance into the frozen landscape with her. She tells me that she will visit Vulture Mother for cleansing, and that when I come out of the journey, I need to do a strong sage smudge, followed by a sea salt bath.
I thank Warrioress for her help and protection, offering her a necklace made of chips of sparkling crystal. “All will be well now,” she says, placing the necklace in her medicine pouch. “Our work is done.”
Then she turns and strides off into the vastness of her frozen home. I find the opening through which I can return to ordinary reality in my own time and place. I walk through it and am quickly transported back to my forest medicine wheel. I return to my body in the darkened room where Moon Dancer is waiting for me. She sees that I have returned, and hands me the smoking sage wand she has been using to keep the energy around me clear of negative influences while I journeyed. I thoroughly smudge both Moon Dancer and myself.
Exhausted, I draw a tub of hot water, add a handful of sea salt, and submerge myself, letting the heat draw out any negative energy I might have picked up during the journey. I felt strangely bereft, as though the Red Birds had been my own family, none of whom I would never see again. Tears flowed as the bath water cooled. Finally I left the tub, put on my most comfortable pajamas, and crawled into bed, tears still streaming as I fell headlong into a deep sleep.
You might think that was the end of the story of Red Bird and Sky Woman, but if so, you would be mistaken. That very night, I dreamed fitfully of endless conflicts, betrayals, and losses that I tried to flee from or hide from. As I sat huddled in the midnight forest of my dreams, sobbing, feeling more alone and vulnerable than I had ever felt, I heard footsteps approaching. Fearing more conflict, I shrank back into the shadows of the spruces beneath which I sat. The footsteps came closer. I shrank back farther. When they stopped right in front of me, I knew I had been discovered, and reluctantly opened my eyes.
There he stood...Red Bird, resplendent in his full regalia, his potent masculinity and shamanic power creating an aura of brilliant, flickering light that shimmered around him. He squatted down before me, and reached for my hand.
“Don’t grieve for us so, my Sky Woman,” he said, “for I will always come to your aid in times of conflict, in times of betrayal, in times of loss, in that other world you know how to visit. Simply go there, and sing my grieving song. I will hear you calling me, and I will come to you there, to offer you guidance and support.”
When I awoke in the morning, all I was conscious of were Red Bird’s words of comfort and his offer of aid. I never knew for certain whether I had dreamed him, or whether he had come to me by some other means as I dreamed, but in the years to come, as I would face one challenge after another on the land I loved so deeply, I would find that Red Bird was true to his word.
If you missed reading the four installments that preceded this final one, and would like to read the whole story start to finish: