A Place Below the Cattails by Sara Wright

As a woman with Passamaquoddy roots when I first came to Abiquiu I was invited to participate in the six pueblo celebrations along the Rio Grande which made me feel blessed, grateful, included, and at “home.”

My own people’s lives and traditions were  destroyed by colonial peoples centuries ago.

Yesterday I was invited to attend a river blessing on what I call Red Willow River a tributary of the Rio Grande by folks of Spanish and Indigenous descent who live here in Abiquiu on the mesa. These people, although local, are of mixed descent and do not follow the seasons and cycles of the year as the surrounding pueblos do. There is a heavy overlay of Spanish colonialism along with a restrictive (to me) Catholicism that sets this village apart from the pueblos.

Still, I was looking forward to this celebration

That was supposed to be led by Tewa Women United from the neighboring pueblos. It was a beautiful day, and of course we were all on “Indian Time” which means practically that ceremonies start when the time was right.

However, this blessing of the river didn’t come together at all. People milled around aimlessly. Some left. The children some of whom were dressed in regalia played for a while and eventually got hungry. Some complained they had to get back to school for a game.

Because this celebration was supposed to honor the waters and the river, I had brought one of my Zuni bears to be blessed.

I approached one of the head honchos of Abiquiu village to ask if I could include my little bear in the blessing, and was told curtly that it was my job to watch.

Stunned and deeply distressed, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I am a ritual artist who has been celebrating the eight spokes of the year (akin to the Indigenous way) for almost 40 years. I removed my little bear from my neck and walked down to the river.

Kneeling by her waters, I submerged my small bear three times praying that the wild bears that were being slaughtered throughout this country of unspeakable violence would be spared suffering as they were killed…

My tears of grief spilled into the slowly meandering gray sage green river. On my return to the group I heard the drum…

It was at that moment I saw the gift. Retrieving it instantly I recognized it as an eagle’s breast feather.

Someone had heard this prayer.

Maurice, from Abiquiu village was leading the children and some of the other Genizaros (self defined name the mixed blood population of Abiquiu) in some circle dances after which he invited the public to join in.

Maurice is a dancer that is filled with the Spirit. His feet never touch the ground. Every time I witness his dancing I am struck anew with wonder. I loved watching the children with their colorful ribbons flowing in the wind. The dancing ended abruptly after a few minutes and the people went home.

Although the focus of the gathering had been aborted, it was fun talking with friends under the shelter of the cottonwoods.

As a woman who thrives on rivers, brooks, warm summer rains, and abundant moisture I felt satisfied that I had come to do what was in my heart and to honor the gift of water that brings me life.



Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.

Categories: animals, Belief, Community, Dance, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Relationality

Tags: , , , ,

12 replies

  1. As I read your words I feel the river sparkle and brighten and quicken with love… Thank you for being you and doing this work with such heart and dedication!


  2. Thanks Sara. The longterm effects of the trauma of colonisation are truly terrible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your posts about place, Maine and New Mexico. I love how your river ritual with the bear connects the two.


  4. I have really developed some understanding of just how terrifying this process is living in an area where the descendants of ancient Pueblo peoples remain self governing, self contained, and very protective of their ceremonies… Contrast this against this local village whose two NON Catholic annaual celebrations revolve around children taken by the colonists – this one horrible as it is – involving rape at least acknowledges that the Spanish did something wrong – but the other deifies a saint who martyred herself and died of starvation (Santa Rosa) when she was barely more than a child – what a message that brings to the women today…. From what I observe Spanish colonialism is alive and well.


  5. What was wrong with those people at first when you wanted to bless your bear? Didn’t they think you counted? I’m glad you did your own small ritual. And what gift to receive! I believe you when you say Spanish colonialism is alive and well.

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Bright blessings to you, your bear, and the land.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Barbara! Yep, Spanish colonialism is alive and well for sure… and not just with those folks.


  7. I am so glad you wove your own sacred relationship with that time and place, in a way that surely brought healing to you, to the water, the bears, the animals (including other humans), and all the kindred web. I find your quiet strength inspiring. <3


  8. Thank you for this share Sara. I can relate to your story on many levels – being pushed aside, carrying on with your personal ceremony and relation to water. I recently took a vial of water from the Eastern Sierra to pour on the castle of a Catalan ancestor who volunteered to be part of the Spanish colonization of California, with the intention of “Slaking the thirst of colonialism.” Then I came face to face with my own colonial mind, an internalized superiority, through an intense healing crisis. I felt the black smoke of arrogance leave me. I didn’t intend to meet my Shadow side and yet now, I am so much more centered in the Light and Love of Spirit’s Oneness. Less shameful since this misplaced pride left my body, much more connected to All.


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