Thanks again to guest writer Gertrude Gingerly for this enriching piece on her experience with a Lakota Shaman.
On the days prior to the ceremony, I remember feeling insatiably hungry. My stomach was an endless pit that could not be filled. The temperature in Chicago was hot to an unbearable degree and the air conditioning in my house did not work well. Usually, sauna-like temperatures equated to me eating lightly, but I was craving heavy comfort foods.
Macaroni and cheese, sugars, pizza, cheeseburgers, I could not stop eating.
This ceremony did not require fasting. There would be no drugs, only a Shaman leading ceremony. On the way to Wisconsin, where the ceremony would be held, I stopped at a gas station and bought an ice cream bar thinking it would hold me over for the three-hour drive to my friend Audrey’s house where I would spend the night. That was not enough. It was Friday, so I stopped at a local tavern to get a fish fry, two things I normally would not do to satiate my hunger.
On Saturday Audrey and I drove to Wisconsin Rapids to the ceremony early in the morning. The ceremonies held by Debra never have a specific start time, you show up when you show up. As soon as everyone is there events begin to unfold. There is no end time for the ceremony either. You live in the moment.
Audrey and I caught up with everything that had been going on in our lives. A big part of my life at that moment were the issues I was currently having with a roommate and friend, Elizabeth. She was living with me for the summer. The plan had been for us to write. I had thought she would be working on a large work project that was due in the fall.
When Elizabeth got to Chicago she had another plan in mind.
Much of her time was spent doing drugs and staying out late, partying. This was not the kind of behavior I wanted to live around, I was trying to change my life. I had my partying days, they were fun but did not get me to where I wanted to go. Her actions caused friction between us. Her promiscuous lifestyle caused friction between me and other friends. I never cared about her behavior in the past because it did not affect me directly. I also knew her in my mid to late twenties, a time when I was having a lot of fun in ways that were not as healthy for me. Now I was older and wanted to be mindful of my actions in a way I had not been before.
I tried to confront Elizabeth about my feelings. She was receptive, apologized, but her behavior continued on.
When you tell someone that something could potentially hurt you, and they claim to be your friend but continue to do that thing anyway, they are not someone that can be a positive influence in your life and it is best to let them go. It’s important to know when to say goodbye and to stick to that. You can always hope for better days with that person.
In retrospect, all of the relationships solely based on late nights were temporary.
I still care for these people, but at some point had to go in a different direction.
Debra, the Shaman, lives in a suburban neighborhood. The ceremony would be held at this location, at her house. Debra is part of the Lakota tribe and was one of the first women to be asked to hold a ceremony. She is a beautiful woman, about 5’4, dark brown hair, and eyes that shine with love.
When I walked into the room and saw Debra for the first time, even though she has never met Elizabeth, had no idea that I was living with her, Debra called me Elizabeth. I reminded her my name, she said, “ I have no idea why I called you that name, I don’t even know an Elizabeth!”
It gave me the chills.
The lessons of any ceremony are ones you often don’t realize until later. When I think back to how Debra accidentally called me Elizabeth, I think of how my biggest fear at the time with Elizabeth, was turning into Elizabeth. Because I had that fear, I projected all kinds of judgment onto Elizabeth. I loved her, but I was scared of becoming her because I was around her.
Elizabeth struggled to listen to others, she always wanted to be heard. I could emphasize with that and could handle that. What I could not handle were the deception and lying behavior.
Another perspective, which I could not see until after, was that I was choosing not to be like her so I would not become her. My fears were irrational. All of my fears are irrational. And although it is unfortunate to see a friend make choices that are unhealthy for them, I think I could have handled the situation in a more compassionate way.
My friend heard Debra call me Elizabeth as well and made a note of how strange it was. Debra has psychic abilities. She is open to other realms and can see and hear things the average person cannot. I had been to one ceremony previously with her where I was going through a traumatic heartbreak. I remember the moment I first met her, we were sitting in a circle and had to briefly introduce ourselves and share a little of what we wanted from the ceremony and if we would like to receive a healing. I made eye contact with her and tears began to pour from my eyes. I felt safe for the first time in a long time letting all of my pain out. I was also unnerved, she could see straight through me like I was transparent, and I had never felt that before.
The recent heartbreak was the one you never want, not that any of them are, but in my mind, this is the worst kind. The kind where the person abandons you with little to no explanation. When you look back though, once the clouds have cleared and the mental clarity again shines, you see the signs you didn’t see in the moment. You know that person did you an immensely kind favor. The only thing you wish for at that point is that you could have handled the ending a little better.
There were about eight people at the ceremony. Joining us were several people that had received healings and two people that were joining ceremony for the first time. They were a couple that had recently lost their two-year-old son. The mom (Kathy) had found him dead in his crib. It was humbling to see how they carried their grief. I have never seen so much courage in two people. We were all talking and realized that we had all been more hungry in the past few days. Debra said,
“This is because we were preparing to give the spirits what we could by fulfilling our hunger.”
The purpose of the ceremony was to give gratitude to the spirits for the healing I had received earlier that year. I brought gifts for people attending the ceremony and an ancestral dish to share for the feast. We were told to make prayer ties. Prayer ties are tobacco that you put into tiny sacs of cloth and tie together. With each sac you make, the idea is to give an intention, it can be for a person, or yourself. You hold your prayer tie throughout the ceremony, then after you burn it or throw it into the water while reciting a prayer you make. Debra explained how the ceremony would work. We would offer our dishes to the spirits in a fire, then give our gifts at the altar.
Steve, the father who had lost his child recently, made the fire for the spirit offerings.
We all went outside to offer our individual dishes into the fire for the spirits.
When we first walked outside I saw a butterfly flying around us and noted the beauty.
We each took turns giving our dish to the spirits, we were supposed to give thanks to our ancestors during this process. When it was my turn, I thought of my mom and dad’s parents. Mike, Betty, Marie, and William. Two of whom I never met. As I walked around the fire, I thought of four words to describe the gifts they have given me.
Strength, beauty, intelligence, and grace.
I repeated them in my head as I walked around the fire and made the offering of my ancestral dish to the fire. As I dropped it in, the fire picked up, rising and creating stronger, consistent flames from the weaker about to die flames that had been there before.
After I made my offering, I stood for a while, alone.
The wind picked up in the trees, Debra said to me, “Listen to the trees, your ancestors want you to stop suffering, they want to take your suffering away.”
I stood by the fire, fighting the tears that had been haunting me almost daily for the past year, and beyond to three years before when I lost a large part of myself. I knew then it was time to face that life is difficult, but I have the power to spread joy and love and accept sadness, but not to “be” sad.
There was silence for a while as my tribute was taken by the spirits. Debra, then whispered in my ear, “The spirits have given you a name.” I knew nothing about this, but I found out later this is a very rare and special thing. The spirits had named me Great Butterfly Woman.
“You will spend the rest of your life learning about your name and learning how to be your name.”
I said I was honored, rendered speechless at the beauty of such a name.
The butterfly is symbolic of transformation, lightness of being, dancing, and the essence of the soul, leaving earthly matters and developing in a spiritual way. One of my favorite things that I have learned so far said that whenever you see a butterfly, you should dance with them, especially if they offer you a dance.
A large part of my life has been about transformation. In High School, I was named the most changed person. I feel myself drifting towards change every moment, every day, I am thirsty for knowledge, creativity, change, and I love to laugh, to be light. My spirit’s weight this last year has been a burden, not only on me but on the people around me.
There is always a ripple effect from your actions, I have realized this more and more.
Later on that day we learned a lot about Debra, her place in the movement of women becoming recognized once more in Native culture and ceremony and in shamanism. We talked of Pleiades as somebody had meditated and had a vision of the seven sisters and how one sister was returning. The divine union was mentioned, the returning of the sister could mean divine union in some beliefs, but we do not know ultimately. Debra said,
“Why do I keep on seeing a French person come up as a vision?”
I didn’t know at the time, but this would be significant for me.
I spoke with Debra before I left and I told her that I was seeking my next steps in life, that I had abandoned a job I really wanted because of money.
She told me, “Money is not your god, you need to eat and survive but never make a decision because of debt.”
It was refreshing to hear that and I will live by those words going forward. I go forward now charged with the name I behold, one that makes much more sense to me in the truth of who I am than my given name. I felt so much love and support, I feel this now and carry it everywhere I go. I never have to be scared again of being alone for I have my family and my tribe.
I attended ceremonies with Debra after I had received ayahuasca in the jungle. I must say that although I think ayahuasca can help unleash healing, people really do have the power to do that without assistance in their own minds. That is why these kinds of ceremonies are so empowering, they help you realize your own beautiful power.
Gratitude is the best gift I have ever received.