Recently, I returned from the Southwest where I was introduced to the ceremonies of the Pueblo peoples, ceremonies that reflected my own spiritual practice reinforcing its authenticity. This interlude also allowed me to be part of a people who had never lost access to their roots. They had never given up their ceremonies or surrendered their way of life.
I returned to Maine with a much stronger sense of my Indigenous cultural identity than I had when I left. I hadn’t realized until I went to the Southwest how much this identity had been eroded by local people. Living in western Maine had brought me in contact with the frightening bias people have towards Indians; some are openly despised.
My first reality ‘hit’ occurred a few months after moving to the area after giving an elementary school program when fifty people from an irate religious group gathered one night at the school and attempted to indict me as a witch. “I was turning their children into trees,” one of my accusers said. Although the program I had given was an astounding success no one intervened on my behalf, including the superintendent of schools or the principal of the school that asked me to give the program in the first place.
Numerous other negative encounters followed over the years. Two neighbors bought property next to me and moved in. I didn’t understand why they disliked (hated?) me. It took me years to understand the reason – bias. Because I am “different”.
Just up the road from my home seven years ago some locals put up signs that stated “We don’t trust you, Sara Wright”, in an effort to humiliate and prevent me from walking up a mountain road.
I was discriminated against by the town of Bethel when I offered to become part of their annual Mollyockett Day – supposedly a celebration of Mollyockett and our local Abenaki Native heritage. In actuality this celebration had nothing to do with Native peoples (One of their most egregious practices is the frog jumping contest when hapless amphibians are forced to hop around steaming concrete for children’s pleasure. No Native person would ever agree to torturing animals in that way).
Just last spring, two months after my return from New Mexico, a red truck left a dead baby grouse in my driveway. Others leave screaming tire marks. These grim examples reveal that hatred of the ‘other’ and discrimination is a way of life here. Difference is not tolerated.
But to return to my present story… this fall I decided to do something different with my medicine wheel. I carefully cut out a photo of one of my bears sitting in the mother pine and placed the photo in the center of the wheel, replacing the thunderbird. Ah, now the wheel looked just right, and I placed the print above a little mantle in a dark corner of the living room. A solitary candle lights the wheel unless the sun is just right and then the entire space lights up eerily. An abalone shell reflects the blue green waters below.
With the Medicine Wheel in a place of honor I decided to do some more research on the image. I was astonished to learn that the ‘swans’ that encircled the wheel were cranes – Sand hill Cranes, my spirit bird of the east – birds whose haunting cries literally freeze me in wonder – birds that I lived with every winter in NM for four years, birds that I discovered to my great joy are now living/breeding here in western Maine. Cranes not swans. And Joe painted the cranes with their feet becoming roots seeking green earth ground. According to Joe “the two cranes that envelop the circle represent a spiritual relationship with the earth”. Exactly! Oh, it fit.
Then came the next surprise. I read that in the beginning (the creation story) the Ojibwa who were water people were led by the Sand hill cranes who were their leaders. The original holy people were cranes, loons, fish, deer, marten, bear and thunderbird but the thunderbird had to be returned to the sea because his powers were too strong. The Bird people replaced the thunderbird. Today the Crane clan is the most powerful followed by the Bear, as Healer.
I guessed that it was Joe’s spiritual experience with the Lakota Sioux that led him to place the thunderbird in the center of his medicine wheel paintings because the thunderbird is sacred to the Sioux.
Joe died in 2009 but what follows is what he wrote about his beautiful and deeply moving paintings.
I am motivated to paint by my desire to share this connection with others so that they may discover their own natural and spiritual relationship with the earth. I want people to feel and experience the wholeness and simplicity of life.”
He certainly helped me.
Today, our blue green planet is in crisis and I believe our only real hope comes from embracing the ways of a people we despise or dismiss, a people whose way of life could teach the rest of us how to embrace the values of respect, equality, community, a gift economy and most of all re- attach us to a deep love for this Earth we call home.
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 Maine.
12 thoughts on “Crane Song: Finding my way Home through Image, Myth, and Nature – Part 2 by Sara Wright”
That is so sad and a little terrifying the actions of the few who show their ignorance using such behaviours, when you were sharing such a wonderful gift. And the lack of support, so many live in fear of speaking up, while others think nothing of it.
I love how the image comes to mean so much more with your study of it. I love the cranes, I often come across their image and have seen one in an unlikely place one day that prompted me to look into their symbolism and was amazed by how many different cultures attribute meaning and significance to it. It has such presence in its stillness, in its authoritative gaze, never questioning its own authenticity, I find that assurance inspires great confidence.
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It’s the lack of support that undermines… and for me it was so important to go away in order to see how this erosion was occurring.
As for the cranes -well I’ve done a lot of research on these amazing birds since falling in love with them and am stunned at how often they show up in mythologies around the world – this is a prehistoric bird – very very ancient – and it carries a real charge for many. I am anxiously awaiting President Biden’s reversal of t’s gutting the migratory bird act because these birds are soon going to be migrating and are considered trophy birds by many hunters – as things stand now they can be shot anywhere.
I recently viewed a crane migration program that’s on the Aldo Leopold Foundation website. They went virtual this year, with their fall migration viewing events, as so many have. I learned so much about cranes and vowed to make a trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin next October to see the cranes in person. Thank you for writing about the discrimination you have faced. These types of behaviors are deplorable. May we all look inward about how we have, perhaps inadvertently, contributed to stereotyping people we don’t even know. We are all related.
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Going to see the cranes in person is a must – I promise, you will never be the same.
Thank you so much for sharing this profound painting of the medicine wheel. I love that the cranes’ feet are roots. The druids also venerated the crane. The pattern of their wings in flight might have been the origin of the sacred ogham alphabet. With all respect to the artist’s original conception, I love your Bear at the center of the wheel. It sounds as though the artist wanted people to find and create meaning in the wheel.
It is troubling and sadly not surprising to hear of your troubles with some of your neighbors. I have found in the Hudson Valley that to go any distance west from the river towns is to come into territory where people tend to be more suspicious of difference and diversity. I remember from some of your posts that you have made friends with a young man who is sensitive to trees and that you have some neighbors who are kindly. I hope some of your fellow humans appreciate your knowledge and understanding of the place you love so much.
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The Druids and the cranes? Gosh Elizabeth can you tell me something more about this – or where to go to read more? I didn’t know about this connection and I am struck by the relationship between the veneration for trees and the crane.It ‘fits’.
Hi, Sara. I looked at the source acknowledgments for my novel Magdalen Rising, (first published as Daughter of the Shining Isles in 2000, reissued on 2007 under its present title.) It is the first of four novels about my feisty Celtic Magdalen. Maeve. I began work on it in the 1991 and steeped myself in as much Celtic history and lore as I could find in libraries and bookstores (no internet research then). It seems I found the connection between druids, cranes, and the ogham alphabet in The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I gather from a quick google search some his scholarship has since been questioned, so you might want to do your own further research. Not much is known about the druids, really, as the 1st century Celts were an oral culture that used writing mostly for ceremonial purposes. There are some contemporary Roman accounts, but the Celtic (and perhaps pre-Celtic) stories did not get recorded in writing till centuries later, I believe by monks.
It makes intuitive sense to me that many alphabets came through observation of the natural world, maybe spoken language, too. So, as a poet and novelist, I believe crane flight as a source of ogham scans. But I want to be careful, in this day and age, to identify sources, what is known and not known, what can be authenticated and what not. I probably should checked my sources before I commented.
Thanks Elizabeth so much…. I did look up the relationship between Druids and cranes…. and yes, Graves became an “expert”- always a problem – when we are dealing with primarily oral traditions it is impossible to know unless we listen to original story exactly what might be what… but I am intrigued by this connection never the less – as for druids – what’s important to me is that they had an intimate relationship with trees. Thanks again
It’s awful that some people feel like they surrounded and attack kind and thoughtful people like you in such awful ways as leaving a dead bird in your driveway. I personally don’t much like Native American ceremony, but I respect the peoples and their beliefs. I agree with Elizabeth in hoping ignorant people learn to “appreciate your knowledge and understanding of the place you love so much.”
Bright and SAFE blessings!
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I also have good neighbors to help balance out some of the darker experiences…I got caught in a shame spiral when some of this stuff kept happening – I didn’t realize that until I went away.
As for Native ceremony – not much is public – most is done privately – others are only invited in for what I would call the community ceremony.
I agree with the other comments and am so sorry for what you have endured. I think what is happening now in our country is the same pattern writ large, a rent so deep I fear for the ability to heal it.
If I understood this correctly, you have put the bear over the thunderbird. That feels very symbolic, as if the bear is supported by the thunderbird and both energies are intertwining. And I love that you have made the wheel your own. Brava!
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At first my idea was to replace the thunderbird but later I realized that putting in the bear just made the wheel my own – you are right!