White Bear & the Ancient Coals

by | Aug 22, 2003 | Archives

Cricket songs hang gently in sun warmed air. Creek songs murmur for ancient willows that are crying out near the water's flow. Summer's blessings are everywhere.

Merri's and my friend, White Bear, is head of the Pan American Indian Society. He comes up once in a blue moon to perform a sacred ceremony. This year we held this on August's full moon. It's quite an event, sacred to native Americans (Merri is included in this group), much more than just a toxin reducing sweat.

We had a feast the night before and fast beginning early morning with prayers asking forgiveness for taking the lives of our relatives, the willows. Then we entered the creek and selected twelve stout willow branches that sacrificed themselves for our ceremony.

The men cut and the women stripped the bark. Then we all collected wood and stones and took them to the site of the lodge. There we drilled 12 holes and stuck a sapling in each, bending them across one another, tying this with the willow bark and covered this frame with skins.

Rocks were stacked and covered in a pyramid of wood. The fire started over a bed of coals that date back from a fire that was started before the arrival of Christopher Columbus! Imagine this. This tradition began over 500 years ago and after each fire someone has collected the sacred coals from the fire and passed them on so the energy of this tradition has been brought into this time and will continue to be so.

The rocks are cooked for three hours as we sit round the meadow, listening to the creek, talking quietly, praying and overall just taking it easy…lying in the green meadow with the sun overhead.

Finally when the stones are red hot, we enter the lodge (there is a building of an altar and adding prayer flags by White Bear) and have seven rounds of seven stones. The stones are passed in glowing red and placed on the grass. We welcome each stone (as they are composed of our relatives-everything, in Native American thought, is connected) and rub them with aromatic spices (sage, cedar and sweet grass). Immediately the lodge (which is very small, dark and cramped and represents the womb) gets pungent and hot. We say prayers and then White Bear starts ladling water on the hot stones. It becomes very steamy and even hotter. We sweat.

Each round of hot stones includes a different ceremony. There is the prayer ceremony, the singing ceremony, the pipe ceremony, etc. The pipe is a wonderful carved white soap stone buffalo. After hours of sweating we feel very clean and as we leave take a dip in the cool creek. We have fasted the day…but drinking lots of pitchers of cool water from our sacred spring. It's about seven in the evening and time to eat.

A feast of fresh corn on the cob, corn bread, Greek salad, soy sausages with huge fresh green peppers, nine grain bread, mozzarella cheese and ripe tomatoes ends a wonderful celebration. The 9 of us chat, laugh and eat into the dusk with the creek flowing below.

The purification tends to go on for some time. So as days unfold we'll keep shedding garbage in funny ways. This tradition is about a lot more than sweat.

Next day Merri and I go back and collect the coals and keep them for the next fire, so every time we light up we honor this ancient tradition and our ancestors who thought so much of us 500 years ago that they collected their coals…allowing us to share their energy as we purify.

I hope you join Merri and me some time for one of these wonderful fires. We have two course left here this season. For details go to https://garyascott.com/courses/We'll definitely have bonfires at each to welcome you.

Until next message, may your hearth also be filled with tradition and wonderful memories from your ancestors.