folklorelei: (bigfoot)

  1. Let me Thread you a story…(1-24)
  2. Rikiki Rocks, just outside town in the Rokoko Valley, is a special place.
  3. The stones there have all kinds of fantastical shapes. There’s Old Man Mammoth, a massive piece of elephantine-shaped granite.
  4. And Donut Rock, a modern name for a big circular thing with a hole in the middle. Local tradition says if a woman wishes to conceive,
  5. she should pass through the hole in that rock under the light of the full moon. That’s why it’s also known as Mother Rock.
  6. There’s many another fanciful shape with fanciful traditions, and I could spend days describing them all. Maybe I will someday.
  7. But one thing to know about Rikiki Rocks is that sometime in the way back when somebody carved pictographs on ‘em.
  8. These pictures show warriors, hunters, shamans, prey animals and such like. Some have red ochre added to the grooves.
  9. Folks do say as how these rocks are sacred to the local Kintache Indians. Yaku Ravenwing, the Kintache story shaman, agrees.
  10. Yaku’s legal name is Arturo, but nobody ever calls him that. Yaku means “blue tongue” in Kintache and he really can talk a blue streak.
  11. One time when he was storytelling at a Kintache powwow, some folks swore they saw blue flames sprouting from his mouth.
  12. Like any good narrator, Yaku swears his stories are mostly true so when he says Rikiki Rocks are not to be messed with, people listen.
  13. No one in Portalville would ever desecrate them, but we do get the occasional drive-by tourist that can’t help themselves.
  14. Yaku tells about two such good ol’ boys driving through from Talladega on their way to California.
  15. They took a rest break at Daisy Mae’s Snack-a-Round out on Route 40. She had a picture of Rikiki Rocks behind the bar.
  16. These boys asked about ‘em and Daisy Mae all innocently said how proud people were of ’em in these parts.
  17. Well, you know, the devil is in some folks, and that ain’t no lie, no matter what else may be a story, no matter what else you believe.
  18. These boys got a notion to go out to those rocks and add their names to ‘em. Stopped by Pedergreen’s Hardware for spray paint & chisels.
  19. Way Yaku tells it, when they got to the rocks weren’t another human around ‘cept the hunters, shamans & warriors on the pictographs.
  20. Guess they didn’t notice the sasquatch taking a rest beside The Bigtoes, some Rikikis shaped like 5 giant toes sticking out of the sand.
  21. Sasquatch don’t usually get involved in human affairs, but those rocks is sacred to them, too. Yaku says Sasquatch took care of things.
  22. Sheriff Limonada found the boys’ car abandoned near the Rikikis but didn’t never find a trace of them boys.
  23. So I asked Yaku how he knew the sasquatch took care of them boys if nobody else was around?
  24. He just grinned his big ol’ grin. “Sasquatch told me, of course.” Weren’t but a trace of blue flame & smoke on his lips when he said it.

 

This tale can also be found on Twitter @downportalville.

 

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (siren)

Random quote of the day:

“Angels are happier than men or devils because they are not always prying after good and evil in one another, and eating the tree of knowledge for Satan’s gratification.”

—William Blake, notes on the picture, “A Vision of the Last Judgement,” in Alexander Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

nagoro

This story isn’t exactly folklore—yet—but it should be. Maybe someday, given the way stories spread and change, it will be.

For now, this is the story of the small village of Nagoro, Japan whose population has dwindled drastically, going from 300 residents to 30. There are no children in the village anymore. It’s in the process of dying, like so many villages in Japan whose overall population is in decline.

Tsukimi Ayano saw the profound change when she returned to her village to care for her father fifteen years ago after living in Osaka for many years. Now sixty-seven, she’s one of the youngest people left in Nagoro. About ten years ago, she planted some seeds and needed a scarecrow to keep the birds away. She dressed it in her father’s clothes—with his permission—and noticed that the neighbors said hello to the doll. So she made more dolls, repopulating the village gradually, some representing people who had died as a form of remembrance, like her own grandmother, some made up from her fertile imagination. She’s repopulated the now-closed school, filling it with students and teachers, making it as she remembered it from her own youth.

She makes these dolls from joy, she says, not from loneliness or despair. They just make her happy.

The tourists have found Nagoro, and some of the neighboring villages have asked her to make scarecrows for them. Some people find them charming, some find them creepy, but such is the way of the world. Tsukimi Ayano says she will keep on making them as long as she is able to.

You can read the entire NPR story here and see more pictures of Ayano’s work.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

IF

The Firewolf

Some years ago, when I was still doing art inspired by American Indian sprituality, I had a powerful dream. In this dream, I was gazing into a campfire out in the woods. An enormous grey wolf emerged from the fire, leaping over my head and knocking me flat on my back, his fur trailing sparks of fire that left my eyes dazzled. He ran off and disappeared into the darkness of the forest.

When I woke, I thought perhaps this was a power dream sent to me by the wolf spirit. My teacher had encouraged me to take such dreams seriously and to use them in the artwork. As it happened, I was in the process of making a medicine shield, an object inspired by personal visions, or vision quests, and used by various tribes to protect them spiritually. I figured the dream had sent me the image I needed for it.

When I presented the finished shield to my teacher, she was amazed. “What inspired you to use this image?” she asked.

I told her about the dream.

“You already knew about the firewolf, then?”

“Firewolf? No, I’ve never heard of that.”

She went on to explain that in the traditions of some tribes, fire is considered a wolf and must be treated with respect. You must remember to thank the firewolf for its help in keeping you warm and cooking your food, for the positive benefits it brings, or it might turn on you.

“It’s really significant,” she said, “that you had that dream and had never heard of the firewolf before.”

I thought so, too, and was amazed. I wondered briefly if it might be a case of cryptomnesia, where one is exposed to an idea but doesn’t recall the exposure. But whatever it was, I was thrilled.

I thought I’d write about it for the folklore blog. I duly set about looking up the firewolf legends on the internet in order to provide some references. And therein lies the problem. I found pagans named Firewolf, fictional stories about fire wolves, games featuring fire wolves, so clearly the concept is in the zeitgeist. But I found almost nothing about American Indian traditions concerning fire and wolves. According to Native American Mythology A to Z by Facts on File, Incorporated, the Ute Indians believed Wolf brought fire to mankind:

Tales frequently involve the theft of fire from the being that possessed it. Often the bringer of fire was an animal or a bird, such as Beaver (Nez Perce), Coyote (many traditions), Deer (Nootka), Fox (Jicarilla Apache), Muskrat (Anishinabe), Turkey (Cherokee), or Wolf (Ute). Grandmother Spider (Spider Woman) stole fire for the Choctaw. In one Cherokee tale, a water spider was responsible for the gift of fire.

So, I don’t know what tradition my teacher was referring to. Indian mythology is not a monolith—each tribe has their own set of stories and beliefs. Sometimes there’s overlap, but each tradition is unique, and there are many, many stories out there. I just have no idea which one she meant.

And the cryptomnesia idea is playing through my mind again, once I saw that the Utes believed Wolf brought the first fire. My mother, you see, grew up on the Ute reservation. It’s entirely possible I heard something along the way.

Which does nothing to diminish the vividness and power of that dream. That remains a gift of the unconscious realm, the realm where all things are possible, where mysteries are far more important than answers.

IF

Mother, with Firewolf

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)

crow

I love crows. I’m fascinated by them, although I never lose track of the fact that although they are intelligent and amazing animals, they are wild, and they are predators as well as scavengers. They survive in the real world any way they can—picking up road kill and pet food left outside, catching smaller birds and critters to eat. Whatever it takes.

In mythology, crows are often trickster deities. As the name implies, these deities exist to play tricks on humankind, but the tricks have a deeper meaning. They put people on alert to the shifting nature of reality, reminding them not to get so caught up in the surface of things, to not always believe what your eyes tell you. Beware. Be smart. Do what needs to be done. That’s how you survive.

It’s a tricky business when a human strikes a deal with a trickster. You may get what you asked for, but it won’t necessarily be in a form that’s any good to you, or it may come at a time when you no longer want it or need it. Knowing this, I saw a crow outside my window one day at work and thought how lovely one of his shiny black feathers would be in an art piece I was working on. So I thought, what the hell? I’ll ask him. (In my mind, of course, so my officemate wouldn’t think I was crazier than she already thought.)

“Mr. Crow, I would like one of your shiny black feathers to use in an art piece. If you agree to send me a feather, I will burn sage and juniper leaves in your honor.”

I waited for my feather. At lunchtime I even walked beneath his tree looking for it. No feather. I laughed at myself, but that night I burned the sage and juniper anyway. No feather. I stopped looking for it.

About three weeks later I was driving down the busy thoroughfare of Olympic Boulevard, late to a doctor’s appointment I absolutely had to make. The boulevard has a wide, parklike strip of green down the middle dividing the eastbound and westbound traffic, but absolutely no parking on that section of the street. I pulled to a stop at a light, not thinking about anything in particular except how late I was and what a hurry I was in. The light turned green and I stepped on the gas—and at just that moment a lovely, shiny black crow feather seemed to appear out of nowhere, blowing along the green strip of grass just beside my car.

In about five seconds flat I had a decision to make: do I stop the car in the intersection and run after the feather, provoking outrage in the cars behind me; or go east to the nearest turn around, come back and search for the feather, provoking the drivers on that side of the boulevard; or do I let the feather go and proceed to my appointment? Most people who have heard this story say at this point, “You should have stopped for the feather!” But in the seconds required to make my decision, I had an epiphany. I had to let the feather go. It was not that I had asked too much of Mr. Crow. He had been willing to give the feather, but wanted me to appreciate his cosmic joke. It was as if he said, “You make the decision whether you want to live in the world, or in the spirit world. The choice is yours, and my feather is the symbol.” On this day, I chose to live in the world, and continued on to my doctor’s appointment.

I laughed long and hard at the splendid joke I’d played on myself. The trickster cannot trick us unless we are willing participants. We are the ultimate cosmic jokers on ourselves. In the years since, I’ve also realized the other part of this lesson is that we sometimes have to let go of our notion that we can control life, nature, the randomness of events. . . anything, really. If we’re going to keep our sanity, we have to reconcile ourselves to this fundamental lack of power, and learn to live with life’s basic unpredictability. We have to be careful not to buy into the illusion of the world, of controlling and bending nature (life) to our will.

And so there came a day I told this story to F. while walking back to Avalon from the Wrigley Monument on Santa Catalina Island. She appreciated the irony and we laughed a great deal when I got to the part where the feather blew in front of my car and I had to leave. At that precise moment, the crows in the eucalyptus trees lining our path joined in, breaking into a loud and raucous cawing as we passed.

And so there came another day when I realized once and for all that a relationship had ended. It was a painful ending to an association that never stood much of a chance, but I’d walked into it with eyes wide shut, believing I could make of it what it wasn’t. On that day, I knew I had to give it up, that it had never really been mine. As I walked back to my car, I thought about the lessons of the tricksters and how very badly I had fooled myself. There on the ground, centered just behind my car’s back bumper, was a lovely, shining black crow feather.

 

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)
prayer sticks



What are prayer sticks? A way of making a prayer manifest in physical form, an offering to the gods and spirits in hope they will please them and persuade them to grant your prayer.

There are many ways to make prayer sticks, many traditions, including fake ones. If you type prayer sticks into Google, you'll see what I mean. They aren't strictly an American Indian tradition, but exist in many forms in many cultures. The thing is: one tradition will have you plant them in the earth to soak up the earth's magic; another will tell you they must hang in trees and never touch the earth or the magic is void. I suspect the "truth" is more along the lines of "as you think, so shall it be."

The way I was taught is this: first, get yourself a stick. Now, some traditions say it has to be a stick gathered from a certain kind of tree (the kind of tree varying depending on who you're talking to), stripped of its bark and sanded; others say leave the bark on; still others say the stick itself is less important than the intent put into it. A piece of wooden dowling will do if you do not have a tree handy to harvest switches from. So, I got me some wooden dowling. Second, on the top part of the stick you paint or write your prayer in some kind of permanent medium. Next, you cover up the prayer with bright cloth or leather and bind it with string or leather thongs. I have a special piece of batik cloth which a soldier brought back from Vietnam for his mother. She gave it to my mother, who gave it to me. I use it for all my ceremonial art pieces. Then you decorate the cloth—with things of a more natural bent, not plastic. In my case, I used shells, bells, tile beads, shell buttons (some dyed blue, some natural), bone beads, ribbons, and feathers. Feathers are very, very important. Almost every tradition I've read of speaks of feathers. They help the prayer fly up to the gods, you see. After all this—in the way I was taught—you find a secluded place where you can plant your stick in the ground, somewhere where it's not likely to be disturbed because if someone touches it, the magic all goes away! You visit the stick every day at sunset or sunrise for ten days, and reiterate the prayer inked on it. After ten days it becomes just another decorated stick and you can pluck it from the ground again and do whatever you like with it. I placed mine on display in my room, and they have journeyed around with me now from place to place to place to place.

prayer sticks closeup


And no, I will not say what the prayers were for. I have a superstition of my own, that telling the prayer will make the magic all disappear. In fact, I'm only totally sure what one of those prayers was for (both were done many years ago). I also have a superstition about unwrapping the stick and peaking at the prayer. See above about magic disappearing. The one I'm sure of came true, so the stick did the trick. I suspect I know what the other one was, but I'm not entirely sure, and if it was what I think, then the gods found my prayer stick and me wanting. The prayer did not come true. No harm, no foul. Prayers sticks are about asking, not about receiving.

I did a lot of asking back in the day, back in that day.

This post is really about cultural appropriation. )

*Inspired by Xavier de Maistre's book of the same name, I will be journeying around my sitting room/writing room as the mood strikes me and reflecting on the larger life meanings of the things I find there. The things themselves are not important—they are just objects—but hopefully those remembrances and reflections will be of interest. Another irregular series that I will probably keep up with . . . irregularly.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales

Tags