Sacred Places

“All mystical writing is instruction.” –  Alan Watts

“The sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order.” – Mircea Eliade

List of Sacred Places reports, videos and essays on this page:

Safeguards at Sacred Places – essay

Castle Butte, SK

Castle Butte Video Report

Pine Cree Park, SK

Sacred Places and Consciousness Part 1 – essay

Sacred Places and Consciousness Part 2 – essay

Sacred Places and Consciousness Part 3 – essay

Herschel Petroglyph, SK

Local Knowledge – essay

The Mystery Rocks, SK

Medicine Rock, MB

Medicine Rock Video Report

Two Feathers/Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel, SK

Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site, SK

St. Victor’s Petroglyphs, SK

Star Mound, MB

Boissevain Dancing Ground, MB

Thunderbird Nest, MB

Thunderbird Nest Video Report

Bannock Point Petroforms, MB

Bannock Point Petroforms Video Report

Bannock Point Ceremonial Circle Video Report

Minton Turtle Effigy, SK

Minton Turtle Effigy Video Report

Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel, SK

Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy, SK

Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy Video Report

Spirit Sands, MB

Spirit Sands Video Report

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SAFEGUARDS AT SACRED PLACES 

“The here of vigilance and the now of seeking.”

-Beautiful Painted Arrow

            Because of the nature of the energy present at sacred sites, it is important to visit them in an appropriate manner. Ancient sites require of us a special attention; they require us to be wise in the present moment. Here are some basic safeguards when researching ancient energy. Smudging is a suitable cleansing method, either a small twist of sweetgrass or cedar inside your vehicle or outside, but not if it’s dry weather. This comprehensive list is by writer Maxine Asher. Adherence is personal but I have found #6, #7 and #8 to be personally important.

  1. Maintain optimum mental and physical health.
  2. Practice interaction with vibrations at local ancient sites.
  3. Do not preprogram information about the area you plan to visit.
  4. Begin work in relatively untraveled regions.
  5. Eat lightly before visits
  6. Transmit less and receive more.
  7. Never enter a site in ‘neutral’. Always manifest a positive aura of protection at all times.
  8. Always discharge energies after leaving a site.
  9. Systematically record observations and experiences.
  10.  Be patient in waiting for results.
  11.  Travel alone whenever possible.
  12.  Be careful in your handling of words and intonations at ancient sites.

CASTLE BUTTE, SK

Reid Dickie

June 20, 2011

“Enticed back, fulfilling an unspoken responsibility.”

I wrote about Castle Butte in a post called Local Knowledge. Castle Butte, a quarter of a mile around and over 200 feet high, is a huge, ever-eroding sandstone monolith that stands like a sentinel over the vast distance of the Big Muddy Valley in southern Saskatchewan, a prominent landmark for millennia. Many times, I’ve stood next to Castle Butte and gazed down the miles-wide valley, its stratified walls burnished by afternoon sun. Since the valley has filled up over the past 8,000 years, I imagine it five times deeper, engorged with torrents of cold glacial runaway meltwater, carving a new language in a system of channels across the land, its syllables the unstoppable will of gravity driving fresh water toward a warm and welcoming sea. The same water chiseled Castle Butte’s precious shape.

This picture shows the butte holding a cloud.

This year, like last, I visited Castle Butte with my friend and spiritual ally Chris. Just like the returnees I write about in Local Knowledge, we were drawn back. Our detour due to flooding allowed the chance to visit the butte. We were eager to return and happy the gravel road through the valley was easily passable. My experience with Chris defies the reports in Local knowledge since we were alone both times we stopped there. This year, the butte’s sparse greenery is lush from the rains, as you can see in my pictures. When it rains heavy, the butte looks like a fountain.

These four pictures show the streams of erosion on one small face of the butte.

This picture shows one of several pinnacles that Castle Butte sports.

A hoodoo, sculpted by the elements, at Castle Butte.

This is the view across the Big Muddy Valley from Castle Butte.

Castle Butte stands as mute witness to its wild, watery genesis but a full participant in its saga of erosion and change. The wind and water still etch their calligraphy into its soft, willing sandstone, the people still return and all the while, Spirit aids and abets our needs. Majestic and mysterious, Castle Butte waits.

CASTLE BUTTE VIDEO REPORT 

Reid Dickie

PINE CREE PARK, SK

Reid Dickie

1995-2010

“Sleeping on the Continental Divide.”

 “Coulee: from the French couler meaning “to flow”, is the term used for a channel down which melted snow and rainwater flow. Some coulees are very deep and wide, others only a few feet deep and so narrow that only a single human on a horse can ride through.”

- Sharon Butala

            Most of the sacred sites I have reported on occupy the highest hill around with amazing vistas in all directions. Pine Cree Park is an exception in several ways. Laid out at the bottom of a deep coulee (the steepness of the access road is about 60 degrees prohibiting large trailers), shrouded in verdant pines, pick any of the two dozen primitive campsites and you can hear the laughing water of the South Fork of Swift Current Creek as it passes beneath the boughs. The Creek burbles out of the top of the coulee about 2 km away and eventually drains into Lake Diefenbaker near Beaver Flat.

Pine Cree Park inhabits the eastern foothills of the Cypress Hills and sits almost exactly on the Continental Divide. If you stand on the one side of the creek you are on the Hudson Bay watershed into which all rivers, including the creek, eventually drain. Step across the creek – it’s only a few inches deep – and you are on the Gulf of Mexico side of the divide where all rivers drain into the warm gulf.

With its good supply of water, game and protective, towering pines, this coulee was a favourite wintering spot for aboriginals, including Sitting Bull and his tribe, Crazy Horse and his people and millennia after millennia of wanderers. Thousands have overwintered here. Choirs of coyotes still serenade each night, since year 2000 bison once again roam the hills above the park. A mysterious and quite visible aura hangs over the intimate little place.

This is my favourite camping spot on the prairies for its beautiful and unusual natural setting and long use. The old trees in the park are protective and add to the sheltering effect of the coulee. Thunder is amplified as it echoes off the coulee walls. Rain and windstorms pass over the coulee, tearing up trees and crops above but barely rippling the sides of my tent. Long into the night coyotes enchant the darkness.

Good hiking boots to protect you against the prickly pear cactus are required to hike up the wall of the coulee. Access from the south end of the park offers a worn two-track trail through tall grass which ends with a spectacular view of the rolling hills that sweep westward and upward into the Cypress Hills. I often did my morning warrior tai chi atop the couleeside then would sit on a well-lichened stone as my morning prayers and songs arose spontaneously within me. I wrote of the experience, “A sense of wonder and secret joy carries me along, my body now just a device through which the Universe speaks. The intent of the earth is evident in my being; my feelings arise naturally in this nurturing space.” The park is one of those in-between places that shamans love and in which they thrive.

I first camped there in 1995 on my initial journey of discovery into the Saskatchewan Holyland. At the time I was reconnecting with the Earth and Pine Cree Park offered a serene and supportive setting for my sacred endeavours. Using the rituals and practical applications of Toltec shamanism, largely from the work of Victor Sanchez, I regained my strong connections with Nature and its mysticism, which contributed to my new-found shaman’s path. I seldom camp two nights in a row at the same spot but Pine Cree Park, with its welcoming mystery and peaceful aura, enticed me to linger several times.

I encountered elemental spirits for the first time at Pine Cree Park. In 1996 on my second visit, little hazy water spirits gathered around me as I sat in light trance by the stream. Rock elementals and some tree elementals joined them in a wispy dance of happiness. My experience with elemental spirits suggests they are be happy spirits. Generally very local and not very powerful, most elementals positively influence my mood, which Pine Cree elementals did every time I camped there.

During my second stay in the park, I found, or was found by, an oddly-shaped smooth stone with a dull point at one end that felt very amenable to traveling with me. I had gone for a hike up the couleeside and when I returned, the stone was sitting on my picnic table, source unknown. Later I journeyed to discover information about the stone and my spirit helper Broken Fingers had me experience “stone time” and “stone space.” In my journal I wrote “stone time feels like an endless slow pulse with a glimpse of eternity now and then; stone space is a fluid pattern of lights that go on and off incredibly slowly.”

Broken Fingers also informed me the stone is a spring-starting stone that can be used to create a spring at a certain place. He gave me very specific instructions on how the stone is to be handled to make a spring and how to hand-dowse an area to find a good spot. From his deep wisdom, Broken Fingers told me of another way to sense for a good spot using my tongue as a sensor, which I have since used for several other purposes. Amazing the information we can gather if we use all the tools we’ve awarded!

On my 1997 trip, I stayed at Pine Cree Park on my birthday. Earlier I had unwrapped the present Linda sent along with me. It was a beautiful blue Brazilian agate, cut thin and delicate. When I cupped it between my hands, I felt such warmth and love pouring from the stone. I could feel my heart beating inside the stone. Similar stones are used by Brazilian shamans for communication at the throat and brow. At twilight, which comes early this deep, I gently washed the blue agate in the cold clear waters of the South Fork. Welling up from within the earth just over a mile away, the water has little time to warm. It is numbingly cold but I could still feel my heart beating in the stone even underwater. Now an integral part of my medicine bag, the blue agate serves a new and significant purpose when Linda and I communicate.

My most recent experience at Pine Cree Park was in August 2010 when I spent two wonderful hours reconnecting with my old friend. That’s how Pine Cree Park feels to me – an old reliable friend, protective and welcoming. During my time there, the rain I’d encountered from Regina stopped, then resumed as I left. That’s the kind of friend Pine Cree Park has become, a gentle and comforting teacher.             

Located about 9 km off SK Highway #13, and about 20 km north of Eastend or 30 km south of Shaunavon, Pine Cree Park still offers seclusion and quiet, except on Fridays or Saturdays. Try to stay there on a weeknight or Sunday. Choose any spot and know that beneath your tent or trailer is an ancient campfire. Listen for the echoes of drums and quiet singing wafting through the trees. Hike up the steep side of the coulee for magnificent vistas in all directions. Discover the balance that comes from sleeping on the Continental Divide.

One more quote from my travel journal to end. This is from the morning of  August 5, 1997, “What a wonderful rest! If the coyotes performed their prairie opera, I slept through it. If a passing deer sniffed curiously at my tent, I slept along unaware. If Great Spirit stopped by to smile at me, it occurred outside my knowing. I am home.”

ADDENDUM

Over the summer of 2011 I was lucky enough to travel to more than a dozen sacred places in Manitoba and Saskatchewan recording reports on my little camcorder at most of them. While Spirit manifests at every site, there was one in particular where the message Spirit needed to convey was clear, reportable and captured on video. Please read my original post called Shining a Light Into Hidden Places and watch the video called Three Stones at Pine Cree Park which details my encounter with Spirit on the night I camped in the park.

SACRED PLACES AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Reid Dickie

 Part One

“Holy places lie dormant for long periods because that which created the place waits and watches for a time when certain historic moments occur and conditions are set in place, conditions which allow wisdom to come through certain people who will bring it forth into the consciousness of that era.” – Joseph Rael aka Beautiful Painted Arrow

“All depth is interpreted.” – Ken Wilber

             Based on my experience, sacred places offer an opportunity for my inner self and the outer world to meet in peace, purpose and ease, a harmonious alignment of in here with out there. This began growing within me sixteen years ago when I peeled the rind of modern life away from my being and re-encountered the vast and mysterious plains first hand, their subtle flavours ashimmer across my skin and the sky. Every summer since then I have, to varying degrees, traveled the prairies and walked the trails that lead to Spirit. I’ve done the fieldwork, “put my boots to the ground,” as one friend reminded me.

With a quick mental count I can easily think of a dozen sacred places in Manitoba and a dozen others in Saskatchewan I have visited more than once, performing ritual at most of them. Sacred Places on this blog gives you a good overview of the types of sites in both provinces. Although a westward diffusion of changing culture is evident in site uses and designs, the common feature of them all is Spirit, or rather access to Spirit. (For a better understanding of my terminology and meanings, I recommend you take a few minutes now to read FAQ on my blog.)

Here’s what happened to me at Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel on October 9, 2010:

I rattle, sing my power song and spiral around the outside of the stone circle. Very quickly I feel peace and holiness surround me; every step, every breath, every glance is a miracle almost too beautiful to bear. I spiral in toward the centre where I am summoned to the nest at the core of the cairn. I carefully climb over the rocks to the centre. There, on a bed of rock, open to the heavens and the earth, I ask, with a wavering voice, “What?” Even before the answer comes, I am trembling and tears begin to flow.

            Spirit gave me three clear and real directions at that moment, ponder points. I heard a soft but firm voice tell me I needed to go deeper into this, control my ego and write. While my body is on its knees, a weeping bag of snot, my mind is recording those instructions, already processing, and my spirit is soaring in ecstasy.

            All three parts of my being are fully integrated and harmonic at this moment. Each transforms the others. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, The One into the Many, the Many into the One. A state of bliss.

You can read my full report from this site here. I’m using my Moose Mountain experience because of its similarities to my contact with Spirit at many sites. It is common for humans to react emotionally when approaching Spirit. Getting that close to the Source is a rare occurrence. Tears are frequent at very powerful places like Moose Mountain as are spontaneous singing, dancing, gestures, sign language, clowning, solemn prayer or bouts of uncontrollable laughter. I nearly went off the edge of the hill rolling on the ground laughing at Wild Man Butte.

Although I have listed these safeguards before, I offer them here as a starting point for visiting sacred places. Because of the nature of the energy present at sacred sites, it is important to visit them in an appropriate manner. Ancient sites require of us a special attention; they require us to be wise in the present moment. Here are some basic safeguards when researching ancient energy. Smudging is a suitable cleansing method, either a small twist of sweetgrass or cedar inside your vehicle or outside, but not if it’s dry weather. This comprehensive list is by writer Maxine Asher. Adherence is personal but I have found #6, #7 and #8 to be most important to me.

1.     Maintain optimum mental and physical health.

2.     Practice interaction with vibrations at local ancient sites.

3.     Do not preprogram information about the area you plan to visit.

4.     Begin work in relatively untraveled regions.

5.     Eat lightly before visits

6.     Transmit less and receive more.

7.     Never enter a site in ‘neutral’. Always manifest a positive aura of protection at all times.

8.     Always discharge energies after leaving a site.

9.     Systematically record observations and experiences.

10.  Be patient in waiting for results.

11.  Travel alone whenever possible.

12.  Be careful in your handling of words and intonations at ancient sites.

I have found a sympathetic frame of mind and are ready to approach a sacred site. Presence, being in the moment is always the first and most important step when visiting sacred places. Most every report in Sacred Places contains a description of my arrival and how I prepare. It is important to honour the rituals when attending at sacred sites. For me this begins with sweetgrass, sage, and/or cedar smudging; being positive, protected and prepared; being patient, careful and open. I have learned to wait to be welcomed. Caution prevails at all times.

This little process of waiting brings me seriously into the present moment and holds me there. I must wait – open, alert, fully present. Eventually, the contraction of being loosens. I relax and feel welcomed. Thereafter, my approach to the site serves to increase my presence, which becomes natural and easy, flowing with the local spirits.

Rattling stirs up the spirits. My power song is my signature; I sing it at all sacred places. As I near the central cairn, enraptured by the beauty of simply being, integration is occurring rapidly. Body, mind and soul are utterly immersed in Spirit. The gaps between body, mind and soul are closing due to the singular purpose of my presence and Spirit. Transformation is underway, transcendence is very near. Ecstatic, I received the message at Moose Mountain. I am blissful, burning in ecstasy, tasting my spiritual nature. Paradise attained, Joseph Campbell would describe it as “The rapture of participation in a manner of being beyond time.”

Sacred places are portals where the veils are thin allowing easy communing with Spirit. I have used all those phrases to try to reveal what actually happens to me at sacred places. At this point language displays its limits but, in a word, what happens out there is transcendence, surpassing.

What is transcended and surpassed? Our broken selves, the three delicate aspects of being we each possess that thrive on being lovingly entwined but seldom are: body, mind and soul. Once integrated, access to Spirit opens. Culturally, the body/mind split is encouraged and exploited endlessly in media and advertising; healthy integration of all three is rare and disparaged.

What’s the process to get to transcendence, to integrate body mind and soul, to unity resulting in bliss? To understand this we need a firm grasp of consciousness, how it develops through our lives and where it can take us if we use our inner technology. It would be handy to have a map of our consciousness to trace these steps. Aha! Here’s one!

            Ken Wilber Map #1

 

Ken Wilber Map #2

          Take a long look at Ken Wilber’s Orienting Generalizations to Track the Evolution of Your Consciousness. Ideally, print off each page on a separate sheet and place page 2 to the right of page 1 extending the map horizontally. Designed to assist you in following the evolution of your and everyone’s consciousness from birth to the present and, potentially, beyond, the map shows the various stages along the path of personal growth. The higher you go, the deeper you go, the bigger you get. The map distills much of Wilber’s thought on the spectrum of consciousness, the potentials within each of us and the process to achieve each one. Our consciousness grows and develops upward so read each column of the map from bottom to top as if it were a plant growing toward the sun.

Each column represents some aspect of our being with the specific content of the column listed in bold along the bottom. Each stage and what happens there is noted by one of Wilber’s fulcrums, reading across the map. I included some modern research from Maslow, Loevinger and Kohlberg plus visions of the perennial philosophy from Plotinus and Aurobindo, thinkers separated by culture, experience and 1600 years. Pathologies and treatments required inclusion.

Study Wilber’s Orienting Generalizations, print them off, take them to coffee, get to know them and yourself…and everyone. Try to find yourself on the map. You are on there. We all are. Remember Map Rule #1: don’t confuse the map with the territory. You read the map. You live the territory.

In Part Two on Sunday, April 24, I will explore the spectrum of consciousness as it applies to shamanism (which begins at the psychic stage) and explore the nature and potential of each transpersonal stage.  If you want to delve into Ken Wilber in more detail on the topics I’m discussing, I recommend his 1996 book, A Brief History of Everything available at fine bookstores everywhere.

MY APOLOGIES

At the end of Part 1 of  Sacred Places and Consciousness, I stated Part 2 would be posted today. That’s not going to happen. I apologize to my readers. The time has gotten away from me and I haven’t completed the second section yet. I will post Part 2 by the end of May. Thank you for your patience.

SACRED PLACES AND CONSCIOUSNESS

Reid Dickie

Part Two

“Shamanic journeys provide opportunities to explore beyond our

customary way of life and discover aspects of ourselves that are not

evident in modern society or that are not culture-bound.” – Tom Cowan

If you haven’t already done them, I highly recommend you do three things before you proceed:

  • read Part One
  • print off and study both maps
  • read my FAQ page

Did you find yourself on the consciousness map? Bits and pieces of you all over? Personal growth is like a game of snakes and ladders. Each of us moves through these changes (or Fulcrums in Wilberese) with varying degrees of grace, growth and completion. Often, somehow, we are stepped on along the way, our growth stalls causing aspects of our being to mature at different speeds and times, if at all in severe cases. We may advance in mathematical cognition but be held back in emotions; advance in musical ability but be held back in social integration. No one passes through all the stages cleanly and sequentially, completing each one neatly and moving on. Mostly we are all over the board all the time until the higher abilities, call them adequacies, are developed and accessible to you. Then your focus is keen and sure, your vision is pure and honest. You are truly evolving. Sometimes you are still all over the board, too, but it’s way more fun now that you know what’s happening to you.

As you can see, development of consciousness is very much a hierarchy of abilities, a continuous increasing of adequacies. The higher we climb, the deeper we go, the more worlds open to us – more depth, more inclusion. Using a ladder metaphor, every rung presents new opportunities, accesses and includes more realities and brings us closer to Spirit. We know this because of the developmental changes you and I have experienced already to get to the point in our evolution of consciousness where we are able to read this page.

Much of what I describe in this essay is above Rational (F5) and well beyond the monological gaze of scientism. It is wisdom attained through inner work, through contemplation and introspection, by observing inner experiences and realizing they are as valid, as real, as consequential as exterior events. The change from the limitations of the exterior world to the utter limitlessness of the interior looks huge from the outside, but is much easier and more familiar when you begin looking at it from the inside out. Let’s do that now.

In our ordinary, daily consciousness most people operate on a Rational level (F5), the stage where we are able to think about thinking. Previously we could think about and act upon exterior realities. Attaining the Rational opens the new ability to reflect and act upon our own thoughts. Nothing that follows in this essay will make any sense at all to your Rational mind so try to see it as part of a complex network of interactions from the slightly higher Vision Logic level.

Above Rational exists Vision Logic (F6) where body/mind integration allows us to see patterns and networks of interactions. We become aware that both our mind and our body are experiences, objects that we can transcend and, thus, placing ourselves on the verge of the Transpersonal. Vision Logic adds up all the parts, discerns meanings and acts accordingly from practical to frivolous. It’s a rather lonely place where we are able to ask ourselves big questions, like “Why am I here?” and “What’s it all mean?” and where we can see all perspectives without favouring any particular one. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said about Vision Logic, “Here the self can no longer tranquilize itself with the trivial.”

I can report from experience, this place Kierkegaard describes is one of the loneliest a human being can inhabit. Described as warrior’s limbo or the dawn of self-actualization, it’s an uncomfortable in-between place where I had fresh clarity about my past, present and the world but virtually no certainty or clear understanding about the future. I had the big fat questions but scrawny little answers to gnaw on. I felt adrift in inklings, foggy possibilities loomed.

Writing this piece I have realized how many of my friends, both lifelong ones from childhood and ones gained over the last 15 years, are capable of and often employ Vision Logic in their awareness, work and worldview. The number is quite large and wide ranging, and includes young and old filmmakers, teachers, artists, musicians, massage therapists, writers, veterinarians, creative bureaucrats, real estate agents, doctors, actors, roofers and more. I can see how this same ability spread across a spectrum of careers was used differently by each individual. In some cases, it defined their individuality, on others, merely enhanced it. In a few cases they have transcended Vision Logic and, perhaps unwittingly, employed Psychic and Subtle techniques in their professions. This makes me blissful that my little life has attracted so many seekers, so many unabated curiosities, so many Old Souls, and even more joyful if I have contributed in any small positive way to their journey. That said, Vision Logic across the general population is rare.

The cure for warrior’s limbo, for the sad side of Vision Logic was to include and transcend it, turning it into a comfortable in-between place where spirits and shamans meet. That’s what happened next. The real process of personal discovery began in earnest for me in worlds inhabited by spirits and power animals.

Fulcrum 7 is the Psychic realm where most shamanic work begins. This is the beginning of the Transpersonal stage when my awareness, no longer confined to my body or ego, explores deeper regions of my being using shamanic drumming and intent. The Self has been transcended and transformed into its essential wisdom making new Psychic abilities possible. Through the discipline of shamanic journeying, I expand my awareness beyond myself to include the Psychic world in a deep, meaningful and inclusive way. More depth, more inclusion. It is a technique, an adequacy I have acquired, like being able to ride a bicycle or play pool. I can turn it on and off. It is rarer than Vision Logic in this culture.

One reason shamanism is effective in the Psychic realm is because here I have one foot in gross reflecting reality and the other in the Transpersonal. As my awareness becomes more inclusive I internalize more of the exterior world. I am transcending myself to include all of Nature because this is the scene of Nature mysticism. In this union with Nature, power animals arise as I begin to live more from inside than out, trusting intuitions, keenly watching for the spontaneous and unexpected during journeys.

In Psychic there is an enormous amount of information available that is in constant confusing motion, causing infectious, unusual empathies to build between my awareness and that of spirits and between spirits. I’m not a psychic so I rely on my spirit helpers and power animals to sort through all this information for me. Over the years, as this information passes back and forth between realms, I have developed honest and intimate friendships with spirits. This is what the Psychic allows me to experience – gathering arcane information.

Beyond the Psychic and even rarer is the Subtle realm (F8) where experiences are actually the seed forms of my existence. Sounds heavy! What’s happening is another expansion of my awareness, now including the Subtle. It’s the same process – more depth, more inclusion. I encounter processes much subtler, much more ephemeral than gross waking awareness. Information in Subtle comes in gentle forms with gentle names such as bliss currents and inner luminosities, expansive states of compassion, nothing like the experiences of my everyday reality or any previous realm. Patience and slow pulsations settle in my being. It is calm, peaceful but I am not alone.

As Psychic has Nature mysticism, Subtle has Deity mysticism. Here the union is with deities, fusion with my original pattern, the archetypal forms which arise out of sheer Emptiness. The potential now exists for coming face-to-face with the Divine. My spirit helpers are especially strong and easily accessible in Subtle. In Subtle I get the first intuitive glimpses of the Emptiness, opening up the possibility that the Kosmos emerges straight out of Emptiness and that I am simply a Witness to that arising. This is what the Subtle allows me to experience – fusion with spirits and a hint at The Source.

Higher and extremely rare, remember this is a hierarchy of abilities, is the Causal realm, so named because it does, indeed, cause everything. Something has to! Infinitely drenched in utter fullness, it is the home of my empty awareness – the Witness. Which witnesses what exactly? It sees the Causal as the scene of freedom and the source of creativity. In Causal, there is an overwhelming sense of freedom, of release, of detachment from everything I witness and then I realize I are this vast expanse of freedom, this limitless source of creativity through which all objects come and go. Witness is itself the Causal unmanifest. It is pure Emptiness. No surprise, for this is the realm of Formless mysticism. Deeper, more inclusive, this is what the Causal allows me to experience – having access to The Source.

Above that is Nondualism, the reality of all states and the source of awareness itself. Can’t report much from a place I haven’t consciously been.

Based on peak, plateau and adaptation of various realms, here’s how the stages of consciousness play out for me today: I have adapted to Vision Logic and upper Psychic/lower Subtle, meaning my awareness has expanded to include power animals and spirit helpers which are accessible at any time. I have plateaus at Subtle meaning, mostly during journeys, I have intense encounters with pantheons of spirits, many of them family members, usually when doing a healing for someone near or familial. My peak experiences into Causal are mere glimpses, fleeting and infrequent yet forceful in attracting me toward Spirit. Momentarily tasting the freedom, seeking the root of the Witness, grabbing for an iota of creativity when needed for a story or article, those are my brief experiences of Causal. Simply relaxing back into the Witness for a few seconds in my chair centres me and supplies the next idea or notion. Each experience contains a seed, an element of growth, a lesson. My life journey directs me to seek out every one.

I learned shamanism from Michael Harner. In his book The Way of the Shaman, he identifies six core elements that most shamans worldwide use in their practice:

  • call to heal – called rather than choosing the path
  • shamans move in two worlds: ordinary and non-ordinary reality (NOR)
  • shared conception of NOR and belief in the spirit world
  • access NOR through altered states of consciousness
  • harness the sacred and healing energies of objects
  • responsibility to community to heal and celebrate the sacredness of life

In core shamanism, we fully accept and acknowledge that spirits exist. I have known spirits exist all my life. Another element is that shamans journey to either the Upper World or the Lower World. That’s where the spirits are. That’s where the power of the shaman’s intent, another basic element, is multiplied many fold. That’s where I meet my helper spirits and power animals, more core elements. That’s where my intent is focused and where I watch for the results as well as the unintended to arise. Both Upper and Lower worlds for me are usually in an imaginal natural place, a shallow stream in a narrow sunny valley is the most common place I go but I’ve met spirits in clouds, under the bark of trees and inside a wolf’s belly.

How does intent fit in? Good old intent! Besides sweetgrass and sagebrush, the best tool I have in my medicine bag is intent. Here’s how it works. A friend recently called me, frantic because he couldn’t find the master copy of a script he’d been working on and his computer had died. He specifically asked me if I could help him find the script. That’s the first thing – the problem and its obvious solution – he asked me to help and told me why. The intent was established. I journeyed in trance and in the Lower World I stated my intent and asked if any spirits could help. Bear, one of my power animals, quickly told me the answer and we moved on to other business (I often have several intents per journey – more efficient). I told my friend his script was under the backseat of his car to which he replied it was never in the car so that’s not possible. He was adamant. The script was behind the backseat. I’ve worked with him before using shamanism so he wasn’t surprised I found it for him.

How did that work? I intended to know the answer to the problem. I stated that intention as part of the reason for this journey. In trance I increased the power of that intent by announcing it in the Lower World and asking if a spirit knew the answer. How did Bear know? As I mentioned, there is an enormous amount of information moving around in the upper stages of consciousness, especially in the psychic and subtle. That’s why good psychics have an easy job. I access that information through spirit helpers like Bear. I ask for the spirit’s help and keep on patiently asking until an answer or answers arise. Knowing and being have coalesced.

Another example, less specific this time. At a weekend shamanism workshop we were doing various exercises, journeying for each other. A young fellow, Troy, asked me to journey about any possible job prospects he had, especially regarding a move to fulltime as a educational assistant. I took that intent into trance and posed it in the Lower World, several times to no avail. If it doesn’t work there, try the Upper World where I traveled in the same journey, posing the intent there. Eagle, one of my power animals, sailed next to me through the azure sky, opened its wing wide and showed me children playing in a pool on the underside of its wing. I couldn’t hear the kids, just see them. I asked Eagle if that was specific to Troy’s question and it was. I told Troy what Eagle showed me about the pool and he couldn’t make anything out of that. So the answer was not so clear…yet. That was Sunday. On the next Thursday Troy called me all excited. He’d just gotten a fulltime job with the school division that involved taking kids, some of them deaf, to the Pan-Am Pool twice a week. As in the case of the script, shamanism did not interfere with the world in order to get the answer for Troy. It just pointed toward the answer and said be patient. But the process, the how, was the same: high intent, stated in trance, patience and alertness.

I have tried to explain the nature of the various stages of consciousness available to us. In Part 3, I will share some of the specific inner experiences that occur at each stage and how they relate to sacred places, and give greater background into the significance and use of spirits.

I am indebted to Ken Wilber for giving me a philosophical context for my shamanic experiences. Having the benefit of his work and the language he uses to describe various stages of consciousness, adds greatly to my work and takes nothing away from it. Again I recommend Ken Wilber’s book A Brief History of Everything if you want more detail in the meantime.

SACRED PLACES AND CONSCIOUSNESS 

Reid Dickie

Part Three

“During shamanic flight the soul doesn’t fly. We expand our limits to include aspects not usually part of our being.” – Hans Peter Duerr

Before you begin reading this, if you haven’t already done so, please read Part One and Part Two in the series and study the Map of Consciousness supplied in both parts and below. Checking out my FAQ page will help as well.

One purpose of this final part in the series is to share some of the specific inner experiences that occur at each stage of super-consciousness. Extraordinary experiences need extraordinary and uncommon language to describe them. Shamanic experiences are often stage-specific, that is, they have meaning only at certain stages of consciousness which is not easily transferred or even described in another state. However, being the naming animal, we have discovered certain language that describes rare stages of mind and exceptional access to consciousness. I have Ken Wilber to thank for bringing forth some practical terminology during his 30 years of meditation practice and philosophical explorations. His terms were invaluable filling in the blanks on the Map of Consciousness.

For example, Wilber uses the term bliss currents to describe an extremely subtle sensation of loving happiness pulsing slowly through your awareness. When I first read it, I knew exactly what he meant. I’d experienced it many times but never had words to describe it. Still, sweet and descriptive as it tries to be, the term is lame when compared to the actual experience!

When I embarked on my spiritual journey my most basic intent was to become less culture bound and more inner directed, that is, live more from inside myself than from what is applied to me from the outside. Shamanism created the path for me to do this inner work I needed to do.

Now, once the drumming begins, I can feel my restive rational mind settle and focus on the steady beat. A wonderful moment of calmness and freedom ensues when I transcend reason and open up to exploring the parts of my consciousness that lie beyond. My first expansion lands me in the Psychic (F7) realm, immersed in Nature mysticism. Some typical experiences in the Psychic realm include:

  • Preliminary meditative states – familiar from my meditation practice,
  • Shamanic visions & voyages – induced through drumming as on-going practice,
  • Identification with aspects of nature up to identification with all Nature – Nature and me are the same stuff,
  • Arousal of kundalini energy – my early meditative experiences included repeatedly arousing these energies. See below for more details,
  • Disclosure of psychic anatomy of subtle channels, energies & essences – this occurs once I began expanding my awareness to include more and more information from new sources,
  • Overwhelming feeling of the mystical – that glorious shivery web of the unknown,
  • Spontaneous spiritual awakenings – important understandings and knowledge suddenly arise in my awareness, sometimes answering intent of journey and/or adding further details and new information,
  • Reliving of deep past traumas, possibly birth trauma – with consent and intent, Mom and I relived my birth about three years after I started my shamanic practice.

Not all these experiences occur every time I access the Psychic realm but all of them have arisen at some point during my years of shamanic journeying. Most frequently, I experience the first seven items. A preliminary meditative state is always part of my intent, which, with the help of the sonic driver, sustains the shamanic journey. The outcome of the journey is mitigated by its particular intent, which varies from journey to journey. Much of Psychic is an adaptation for me.

My early meditative practice focused on awakening kundalini energies and bringing them to full expression. Kundalini energy lies coiled three and a half times at the base of the spine. Arousing it releases an exhilarating and dramatic array of experiences, many of them physical expressions of inner directives. Teacher Christina Grof and her husband, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, did invaluable research on kundalini energy. They list some of the effects awakening can have:

  • Dramatic physical and psychological manifestations called “kriyas” most striking of which are sensations of heat and energy streaming up your spine,
  • Possible tremors, spasms, violent shaking, complex twisting movements,
  • Involuntary laughing or crying,
  • Chanting mantras or songs,
  • Speaking in tongues, emitting vocal noises and animal sounds,
  • Assuming spontaneous yogic gestures mudras and postures asanas,
  • Seeing geometric patterns, radiant lights, visions of saints, deities, demons, and entire mythological sequences,
  • Emotional range: ecstasy, orgasmic rapture and incredible peace to waves of depression, anxiety & agitation.

Since I am familiar with kundalini energy and open to it from my early practice, my visits to sacred places often arouse this energy to varying degrees. You may recognize some of my experience at Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel in Part One as kundalini awakening. The most intense kundalini occurrences happened to me at the Thunderbird Nest as described in detail on the Sacred Places page. Releasing kundalini energy at that site provided an avenue of expression for my spirit helper Webbed Flight and let him “live again.” Hope you read my FAQs.

The next stage is the Subtle (F8) realm where processes well beyond my gross waking consciousness begin to manifest. Subtle experiences arise solely from within me and require special attention and quietude to perceive and appreciate. More depth is required of me now. Spirit helpers, power animals and the Divine are most potent in the Subtle and are accompanied by inner illuminations and patterns and by blissful states of love and compassion. Peace and serenity settle into my awareness. Experiences in the Subtle realm include:

  • Interior luminosities and sounds – slow pulses of dim lights that slowly change colour or create a pulse, a vague beat, everything is calm,
  • Archetypal forms and patterns emerge – the spirits come out to help me,
  • Extremely subtle bliss currents and cognitions – rivers of delight flow through me, small explosions of happiness abound and persist, gratitude builds,
  • Expansive affective states of love and compassion – unfathomable caring arises,
  • Direct spirit communication – the spirits dance with me,
  • Face to face with the Divine – glimpses of The Light is what I get, just glimpses,
  • Pathology: kosmic terror, kosmic evil, kosmic horror – seldom do I encounter negativity in my journeys. When I do I can deal with it effectively and quickly. This comes from years of inner work.

In Subtle abides enormous peace and serenity where quiet forces become evident via gentle perceptions, where love and compassion feel like the only possibilities. Brief flashes of the Divine shimmer through my awareness evoking bliss and unbound gratitude. Access to Subtle for me is generally plateau but adaptation when spirits and helpers are involved, that is I can readily call them if needed in any state of consciousness. Bliss currents and inner luminosities are plateau experiences for me so far.

Approaching the Source occurs in the Causal (F9) realm. All I experience is an unbound sense of freedom, freedom to create, to be, to do, an ancient flicker in the heart of Emptiness, a shadow on a cave wall. Being and Doing happily coalesce in me. I recognize myself as Emptiness and blissfully watch the arising world come and go through that awareness. Experiences in the Causal include:

  • Scene of freedom – detached and free from all the lesser woes of lesser worlds,
  • Source of creativity – sense of release from and release to be and do, all creation arises in my awareness,
  • I am an opening, a clearing, an Emptiness through which objects pass.

My access to the Causal is through peak experiences as needed although this summer I had several extended plateaus floating in Causal. Often, if I am writing and can’t come up with an idea, a phrase, even a word, I’ll sit back on my chair, close my eyes and send a flare to the source of creativity. The reply is usually instant and substantive.

The three stages of consciousness I just described are conduits for the content, information and messages that Spirit wants to convey to me. They are the means, not the end, the method, not the result. Shamanism opens up the conduits so Spirit can flow! Spirit doesn’t just exist when we need or want it to; it exists all the time, which is incorrect since it exists completely outside of time which for us is “all the time.” Clear? I digress.

Another purpose of this essay is to shine more light on the stages of consciousness used in shamanism where spirits (animal powers, helpers, nature spirits) manifest themselves in our consciousness and help us. We are always surrounded by spirits but most people haven’t developed the inner technology to perceive them and, using intent (shaman’s secret), put them to work for you. That’s Spirit pole at Buffalo Effigyrather crass because the spirits are in charge and do what they need to do. Shamanism is a process of dropping assumptions we hold about the nature of reality. Instead of assuming limitations, shamans assume the opposite – unbound, freedom, creativity – and, using those eyes plus intent, find out what’s there. Astonishing things are there…and everywhere!

Spirits offer benevolence to everyone. Not everyone has the training to use their own inner technology to contact spirits for help. That’s what shamans do. I don’t think there is exclusivity to being a shaman. At a shamanism workshop last fall, everyone there, eighteen people, easily went into drumming-induced non-ordinary reality the first time they tried it. Fifteen of them got power animals on their second journey that day. We are hardwired for this access but few persist at it, few hear the calling or see the use. Shamanism is complicated, scary, ecstatic, boring, exhilarating, life-like and needs a certain kind of cat to dance with. Even though I searched for 45 years, I still feel it found me more than I found it. It’s like coming home.

Even if we don’t, can’t or won’t feel attuned to the spirits, they are attuned to us, watching over us. Spirits want to help everyone. A big human discovery was some people found a way to ask spirits for their help and get it. My relationship with Webbed Flight, my old friend and spirit helper (he is the spirit of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago), has matured in the 12 years we have known each other. Relationship? Webbed Flight tells me to cross the street sometimes if he doesn’t like who is coming toward us (Linda came to appreciate this after initially being unsettled by it), warns me about deer on the road, even dead ones, supports and protects me when I am in trance. I am way past being attuned to him; he is a living part of me. Ever protective, kind and curious, contact with Webbed Flight went from being an occasional peak experience to being able to contact him for longer periods, plateauing. Then he became an adaptation, a benevolent spirit that abides with me. That three-step process – peak, plateau, adaptation – took about 18 months with Webbed Flight. This is sounding so technical! Timely aside: What would the spirit of a 1200 year old shaman, when allowed to live again in 2011, find most amazing? TV? Cellphones? Uh-uh. The two things that blow Webbed Flight’s old mind are glass and indoor showers. Ha!

I met Maug (rhymes with blog) about nine months after I started my shamanic practice. She is a fascinating and energetic tree spirit and helper. When I first met her, we went through the three-step process in about 20 minutes and she’s been with me ever since. On my About page, in a piece called The Day Before Yesterday which recounts my ten most recent incarnations, you will find the details about Maug.

From Ken Wilber’s map in Part One you are familiar with the evolution of your consciousness. You are not alone on this journey. It is shared by all humanity. Nor is this journey new to any of us. For hundreds of thousands of years each of us has evolved through these same stages, following the same subliminal basic moral imperative: to preserve the greatest depth with the greatest span (Wilber). We have discovered ways of being in the world and intuited maps and techniques to guide the way to fulfilling our imperative. We have found methods of moving Spirit out of Emptiness, from inner space to materialization in a mound, a circle cast in stone, an image of an animal, the language of the soul writ on the land. There we commune lovingly, peacefully.

Imbued with Spirit, sacred places become custodians of the Divine, keepers of our very essence, but not hoarders. Sacred sites are open and expressive, appealing to our awareness, usually somewhere in the Psychic-Subtle-Causal realms. Each level allows greater access to deeper and fuller parts of my being, more intense experiences and contact with Spirit. The depth of my experience at these places is relative to how developed each of those realms is in me, how adequate I am to accessing them. Shamanism taught me the process, Ken Wilber expanded my understanding and now I proceed into the mystic at will, confident, experienced and some day, if I am very, very lucky, I may figure out how it works on my own.

Meanwhile, I will continue to visit sacred places and perform rituals based on my inner directives. I will continue to journey with my power animals and spirit helpers to imaginal worlds to fulfill healing intents. When Spirit draws me close to absolute awareness, the site of peace and compassion, I will recognize myself as Emptiness.

HERSCHEL PETROGLYPH, SK

Reid Dickie

 July 26, 1998

“The petroglyph grabbed me as soon as I approached.”

             A red-tailed hawk cries over Coal Mine Ravine as it sails on the warm July updrafts on my first visit here. Standing next to a large carved stone, I recognize this as a dreaming place and a teaching place, a place to seek inner wisdom and outer knowledge. A powerful and majestic Buffalo spirit pervades the site.

 

            Jutting three feet out of the ground is a huge well-lichened boulder coming to a rounded point with a flat side facing the rising sun. Carved on the flat surface is an elaborate design of cups and grooves. A deep vertical groove divides the surface with branches running to each side. Two circles divided by a line and the pocks offer an enigmatic message. Walking slowly around the stone, from a vantage point behind and to the right of the stone, a magical thing occurs: the stone takes on the shape of a buffalo charging out of the ground. The image is so clear it stops me in my tracks. I notice later as I leave, the image becomes clearer the further away you are from the stone! Plains creation legends say the buffalo arose out of the ground and was made of stones.

The little gully where the stone rests since dropped by a glacier offers a vista of rolling prairie, farmland and mixed pasture. Below is Eagle Creek Valley, an old run-off channel. Around the stone the usual Saskatchewan flora abounds – prickly pear and pincushion cactus, sagebrush, foxtail, reindeer moss, wild rose, wolf willow and an array of yellow, white and purple wildflowers. Tiny white mushrooms grow on the abundant cow plop, the empty shells of dry purple puffballs crackled in the breeze.

Around the edge of the gully, a large well-used buffalo rub stone looms, its aura one of physical relief and extreme pleasure, the earth around it packed hard by centuries of hooves. I climb on top of the rub stone and sit, open and communing with the place. I hear satisfied snorts and bellows announcing an unknown buffalo communication.

Both stones invite physical contact. I sit and lean my back against the carved stone and immediately feel safe and protected. All seems possible here. Those who came to seek their visions here felt this same safety, the same potential. This is an ancient place, which hosted shamans and vision questers; lonely people searching for the comfort of Spirit found it here. As do I. In light trance next to the stone, I feel the wind blow through me and hear ancient buffalo hides flap against tipi poles. The familiar bliss courses through me.

            A large portion of the stone is underground. Based on the digging the archies did around the stone, they estimate the carvings to be at least 1500 years old. In front of the stone was a foot of post-contact offerings, under which a six-foot round cobblestone circle sat. Beneath that, layers of pre-contact offering were found. Nearby there are two other carved petroglyphs, neither as obvious as the petroglyph stone. As a ceremonial site this place harbours a very deep past.

Its ceremonial use isn’t surprising when you consider Eagle Creek Valley has offered up plenty of strong evidence of long usage. Tipi rings, fire pits, buffalo jumps, petroglyphs, effigies and possibly a medicine wheel dot the valley and surrounding hills. On the approach to the buffalo stone, there is a series of seven tipi rings in a row going up the side of a small incline. These are pre-horse rings when they were set in lines to advantage the breezes that blew up the ravine. Post-horse tipi rings are in a circle to create a horse corral.

Fewer than 50 people live in the village of Herschel. SK making their large and well organized Ancient Echoes Interpretive Centre and Tea Room even more impressive. Tours to the petroglyphs are organized solely through the museum because it is on private property, a fact I didn’t know on my first visit. (By the way, I highly recommend the saskatoon pie at the tearoom!)

How does the centre interpret the legacy carved into a rock on a lonesome wind-swept hill in the Bad Hills of central Saskatchewan? One explanation suggests it is a ribstone of a buffalo with the long central groove representing the spine, the branches are ribs and the divided circle symbols are cloven hooves. Another pair of carved hooves were unearthed lower on the rock. The cups represent many or plenty buffalo. That is the hunting magic spin.

The stone and the site have been used as a teaching place. Along the crown of the petroglyph stone are a series of carved indentations representing the moon phases, one of them connected to central groove. The seven stages of life may have been taught here, according to the interpretative centre.

Plenty of things to see and do for history buffs in the Herschel area    

        Many signs of recent medicine making dot the site. Coloured offering cloths hang from nearby bushes. At numerous places around the pasture, sticks with red, yellow, blue and white ribbons accompanied by a large flat stone with a line drawing of a human being are stuck in the dry earth. Some have bones and sage bundles as well. I later find out these are markers for teaching tribal children from a nearby summer camp about their culture.

            I bask in the peaceful warmth of the big carved stone on a Saskatchewan hill, settled and happy. I find Spirit here. I am home, again.

******

         Currently I am working on a three-part series of articles called Sacred Places and Consciousness.  The series examines the changes in consciousness that occur at sacred sites and how to access sacred consciousness. I hope to have the series done in the next three weeks.  Sacred Places is the most viewed and most revisited page on my blog. Thank you for sharing my journey. Humbly, Reid.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Reid Dickie

“The true wealth that North America offered, wealth that could turn exploitation into residency, greed into harmony, was to come from one thing – the cultivation and achievement of local knowledge. It was in the pursuit of local knowledge alone that one could comprehend the notion of a home and its attendant responsibilities.”

- Barry Lopez from The Rediscovery of North America 

 “We have not yet discovered America.”

- John Hay from “A Beginner’s Faith in Things Unseen”

“A place we know calls for the beloved to awaken and come home.”

- Christopher Scholl from Poetistics

            Many times, I stood next to Castle Butte in southern Saskatchewan and gazed down the wide Big Muddy Valley, its stratified walls burnished by afternoon sun. Since the valley has filled up over the past 8,000 years, I imagined it five times deeper, engorged with torrents of cold glacial runaway meltwater, carving a new language in a system of channels across the land, its syllables the unstoppable will of gravity driving fresh water toward a warm and welcoming sea. The same water chiseled Castle Butte’s precious shape.

         Castle Butte, a quarter of a mile around and over 200 feet high, is a huge, ever-eroding sandstone monolith that stands like a sentinel over the vast distance of the valley, a prominent landmark for millennia. I have stopped there many times and seldom have my visits been solitary. Castle Butte attracts an array of humanity. Spelunkers explore the narrow shallow caves cut by water through the guts of the butte. The curious seek out Castle Butte, usually tourists lured by travel brochures. Most prevalent visitors in my experience are returnees, people whose early lives began on this same prairie under an enormous sun.

            Yes, here they are again, returnees, often trailing disinterested families. Enticed back, fulfilling an unspoken responsibility, the returnees stare up at the sultry muscular shape of the butte against the blue dome, dreamily remembering some event or epiphany the butte shared with them. Each brings with them their eroded piece of the rock, their memories and their own worn shapes against the sky.

            Local knowledge lives in Castle Butte. Across decades, a magnetic force attracts people made wise by the butte in their formative years. Its changing form looms large in their definition of home. Terry Tempest Williams asserted, “Home is the range of your instincts.” To which I add that pairing instinct with local knowledge gives us the certainty, not the mere potential, but the certainty of adaptation and survival, not only here but anywhere we call home.

Part of the responsibility of calling Castle Butte home is to return, like pilgrims, to be present once more, to “show” new family the place then realize Castle Butte’s meaning is so ineffable, so sublime that neither your words nor their presence here will interest them. Unlike you, they are inadequate to the local knowledge; their instincts are out of kilter here.

   

         Local knowledge doesn’t only exist in the sparsely populated rural landscape. It feeds urban dwellers in a more intense version which, coupled with a pantheon of human-induced rules, provides the necessary adaptation tools for most of us to survive in cities. Yet we blankly walk through this local knowledge, unaware of it or any of its manifestations. Instinct is keenest when we are mindful. Try this: for one day, every time you walk into a shadow, notice what building or tree or whatever caused the shadow. Suddenly you’ll know where you are.

Every acre of virgin prairie from Vita in southern Manitoba to Grasslands National Park in western Saskatchewan possesses the original voice of the land, the local knowledge. The winds that blow over the land are given voice by the buffalo rub stones and wallows that are the anomalies and the vocal cords that produce the true language of the prairie. Undisturbed tracts of vitality, uninterrupted evolution, the barks of the prairie dogs, the rattle and hiss of the rattlesnake and the silent spinning of the wolf spider still echo in our ears gone deaf from listening only to our own cleverness.

            We are trapped in the process of naming, which both connects us to and separates us from the world. Our naming is merely a way of talking, a doing where not-doing is required. Because it makes us comfortable we confuse the name with that named, identify with the thought not the thought-about. The reliance on identifying and defending this word magic is amplified in the volumes that fill libraries and bookstores,  words scrawled on walls and our own fear of silence and solitude.

Ancient shimmering places, like Castle Butte, cannot make reason or ego feel safe. They can only slake the soul, making it feel at home. Beyond our clamorous superficial culture lives the real depth of soul, of growth and evolution, of discovering America. After a few days in the wilderness, your dreams change from urban scurrying to a more peaceful pace. Accompanied by dramatic increases in quantity, vividness and context, your wild soulful dreams convey caring concern for all beings. This led ecologist Robert Greenway to suggest our culture is only four days deep. Or four days shallow.

We have discovered its coal, oil, water and forests but the North America that lives invincibly inside us still calls for discovery and understanding. North America is an inner space. If we seek the sacredness it promises, inner work is essential. North America will sustain us if we listen for its wisdom by being patiently quiet. Be still long enough and the wisdom wells up into your consciousness. Then you’ve truly begun to discover home, like the returnees with their local knowledge of Castle Butte.

 

THE MYSTERY ROCKS, SK

Reid Dickie

AUGUST 1999

“The enigma persists.”

           Desolate and mystifying, enigmatic and old, the Mystery Rocks are one of the hardest places to approach using language but I’ll give it my best shot. Situated in the rolling foothills of the Cypress Hills in southwestern Saskatchewan, there is nothing in my experience quite like them. They are a true prairie anomaly, definitely a place not to visit “in neutral” but with all your protection fully engaged.  Am I suggesting this is a dangerous place? Using the precautionary principle due to the place’s unwillingness to reveal very much about itself, I am suggesting just that. Feel ready.

             Photographer Courtney Milne’s marvelous book Spirit of the Land featured a picture of the Mystery Rocks, which was how I heard of the place. My first visit was on a hot and windy August day in 1997 with second-generation landowner Brett Gaff welcoming me and taking me out to the site. It’s drivable from his farmyard, over the hills, across pastures and finally arriving above the place. Bret said two archeologists have visited the place, one from Mexico who camped here for a few days and left suddenly, and another person about whom Brett was vague. Both researchers agreed the place merits more in-depth study. On both my visits, Brett left me alone at the site.

The view looking north from atop the Mystery Rocks. The front edge is along the right of the picture with the large boulders on top. 

            The view from this magnificently isolated place is ten kilometres north, south and east. The deep dun valley spreads away dotted with stands of spruce and pine. The north side of the coulee is rich with evergreens; the drier sunny south is short grass prairie with prickly pear and pincushion cactus.

 Looking down from the top of the outcrop at the jumble of rocks and the platform beyond.

Opposite view from previous picture. Here looking up from the front edge of the platform.

       The Mystery Rocks lay on a bench about halfway down a deep coulee. My first sense was the site was created with great care and purpose but never finished.  Above the site, jutting out of a sandstone outcrop, are a number of sheared rocks. Down from them is a jumble of stone blocks, some on their sides, leaning against each other, some prone or tilted edgewise. Many of the jumbled rocks have been cut into rectangular shapes like the ones on the platform. Below this is an organized platform of rocks beyond which the bench slopes steeply into the valley. The astonishing platform consists of eleven evenly placed rows of huge stone blocks laid end to end, six complete rows at the front of the platform, five more partial rows in back, sixty-five stone blocks in all. The largest rock is six feet by twenty-five feet; most are five to nine feet deep. The front of the platform faces due east.

Edge of the platform is on left of picture with large boulder and assembled platform visible.

            Near the front edge on the platform rest two large oval boulders aligned southeast/northwest, the same direction as the long cuts between stones. Each boulder is about four feet across and three feet high. Many of the stone blocks have basins on their horizontal surfaces, circular indentations in the sandstone ranging in size from 3 inches across by 3 inches deep to a foot across and 10 inches deep. There are 27 basins on the platform. The ground beneath the platform is sandy with various vegetation – creeping juniper, bearberry, sage and fescue.

Standing on the Mystery Rocks, the cut blocks and basins are clearly visible. Notice that the block in lower left is perfectly square.

            Approaching the actual platform was exhilarating. The closer I got the more intensely present I became. The energy flow felt as if it was spiraling toward and away from the site at once, rather confusing for me but very exciting. On my first visit, I sensed an immense span of time had passed since this site was made. This area escaped glaciation in the last Ice Age so it could go back more than 85,000 years.

            My first visit was an easy blur where I lost track of time. The exhilaration from the site clung to me strongly. Even the next day I was still stoned from the place. My second visit, on my 50th birthday in August 1999, was different.

            Brett took me out to the site and, as we were talking, I saw over his left shoulder a herd of elk walk up an incline about a mile away. I counted 26 head with many stragglers. The day was hot, overcast and breezy. I hiked down the coulee and approached the Mystery Rocks from the side. As I crest the rocks, I saw scratched deeply into the sandstone in bold block letters one word: LINDA. Her spirit was always with me on all those solo trips, a reminder she loved me at that special moment.

The same spiraling energy as last time, ancient and pivotal, greeted me as I stepped onto the platform. The combination of the vista before me and the energy flowing through me took my breath away and I knelt on the stones. My little rattle and my quiet power song brought me fully present and I received my first communication from the place. A small voice whispered to me repeatedly, “They are in the rocks.” I asked who is telling me this and all I heard was a rustling laugh, derisive and dismissive then nothing, silence. I felt challenged and alone. The exhilaration from this visit passed quickly once I left the site, unlike my first visit.

How were the Mystery Rocks formed? The “official” government explanation of the Mystery Rocks is, and I quote from a letter written in 1998 by Archaeological Resource Manager John Brandon of the Heritage Branch of the Saskatchewan government, “These natural rock outcroppings have not been recorded as heritage sites.”

Let’s dig deeper into the facts and mythology surrounding these “natural rock outcroppings.” Tipi rings, usually as common as cow plop out here in this part of the prairie, are nowhere to be found at or near the Mystery Rocks. I hiked the immediate area thoroughly, finding an animal effigy, possibly a horse, on the ridge above the site but not a single tipi ring in sight. That’s odd. About a mile away was a big trading post where people from far and wide traded. Fort Walsh, the North West Mounted Police station and now an active heritage site, is nearby. The southern part of the Cypress Hills provided great overwintering sites for thousands of years but not here. The area was crawling with natives except at the Mystery Rocks. Brett Gaff said natives didn’t camp here, “It was too holy, too sacred; only certain people were welcomed here.” Was I welcomed there? I was, to a degree.

Travel back in time with this site and see if we can unravel some of its mystery. The challenge I felt on that hot afternoon as I lay on the huge rock platform was to go deeper into the Mystery. Spurred and tempted would also describe my feelings. For this visit I had expectations, my first visit had none. None of my expectations occurred and later dreaming revealed the lesson the Mystery Rocks taught me on my fiftieth birthday: always arrive open yet protected at sacred places, be free of expectation but have a powerful intent, be present. I gratefully interpreted this gift as a conciliatory sign from the local spirits.

   Graffiti left by previous visitors to the site.  Hat for scale.

              Besides Linda’s name carved in stone there were hundreds of others who left their mark here. There were no signs of recent medicine making anywhere at the site. Due to its remoteness, The Mystery Rocks have little tourist value. Though the site is hikable from Fort Walsh, its existence isn’t well known

I have a deep sense that one of the more recent uses of the place was for vision quests. Bearberry, with its shiny green leaves, grows profusely here and is usually associated with vision quest sites. Between some of the stones, deep crevices could easily house a weeping quester. Not just any vision quester came here. Often shamans reclaimed their vision or sought out new ones several times during their lives. Shamans came here for that purpose. The basins in the stones at that time were used for offerings and smudging.

The confusion I felt comes from its great antiquity.  If pre-glacial then I had few resources to handle anything this ancient. These abilities would develop in me over the next few years but that day I was flummoxed. It felt like people who used magic to create their world built this place for a specific purpose yet there was always the feeling of it being unfinished. Or perhaps its purpose had been fulfilled and what remains was the post-event disintegration of the place.

Some conjecture says the Mystery Rocks are actually a medicine wheel or astrological site. The straight lines formed by the boulders may point to other significant sites. In this picture the lines of the rocks point toward the crest of the small hill in distance.

            The large blocks that form the platform are obviously following some form of organization or intent. The edges of the blocks appear to have been cut somehow and their arrangement suggests something other than natural forces had a hand in forming this place. Some of my subsequent dreaming about this place indicates it may not be a spiritual place at all but an interstellar site known to beings from other worlds. The enigma persists.

            I haven’t returned to the Mystery Rocks since 1999 but have amassed a comprehensive list of things to investigate next about the place. The list includes finding and documenting the effigy above the site, checking for animal presence like scat, nests and tracks and doing a map of the platform surface including basins.

Since the archies (archeologists) seem to be in denial about the Mystery Rocks, it is up to shamans and seekers to find out the meaning and Spirit of the place. I plan to return to the Mystery Rocks in the summer of 2011 to explore, to trance, maybe just to make sure they are still as enigmatic as ever. I’ll let you know.

If you do visit the Mystery Rocks, I feel it is important to emphasize this: please exercise caution, feel ready.

MYSTERY ROCKS EXTRA

       These are satellite (Google Earth) images of the Mystery Rocks sent in by my old buddy Jim. Thanks Jim. I will add them to the original Mystery Rocks report. Click pics to enlarge. What do you see?

MEDICINE ROCK, MB

Reid Dickie

 August 19, 2010

“I am afraid to touch it”

             I’m not sure how I first learned of Medicine Rock but I’ve been drawn to it in the past without success finding it. Four fruitless searches for the site – twice on my own, once with Linda a couple of years back, once earlier this summer – turned up nothing. I was beginning to think Medicine Rock didn’t want me to find it. That happens. But this time – aha! Fifth time is the charm. I have help this time. After four failed attempts, I find someone who actually knows where it is and can direct me.

Medicine Rock festooned with foliage and the offerings of countless generations.

            Harry Harris at the Alonsa Conservation District gives me immaculate directions to Medicine Rock, which deliver me there lickity splickly. I’m good at following good directions. East of Riding Mountain and south of St Amelie, MB I drive on good gravel that becomes not so good gravel that becomes no gravel at all, just dirt. The Mighty Avenger gets a good prairie trail workout heading into the bush then further into the bush then just a little further into the bush then a bit more bush, all the while churning up a fine black dust behind us. Next to a rough hand-painted sign leaning up against two oak trees, a path leads into the bush. Medicine Rock, at last!

            I smudge with sweetgrass in the car, get out and stand in the wonderful silence.  I wait in the warm afternoon for a slight loosening of the contraction of being we all have and can feel as tightness just behind our eyes. Until I feel the knot loosen a bit, I’m unsure if I am welcome. I wait.

            Turning, I see, 40 feet down the road I came in on, a half-grown black bear. It stops, looks at me and sits down. I say, “Holy shit, there’s Bear.” Bear is one of my power animals. Then another half-grown bear comes out of the woods, yawns, sits down and paws the air next to the first. I get into the car and wait for mama bear to show up. The two cubs eventually amble across the road and into the woods away from Medicine Rock and me. A few minutes later mama bear bounds across the road after the cubs, paying no attention to me but certainly knowing I am here.

I am thrilled to see one of my power animals as guardian of Medicine Rock. The powers of courage and strength radiate from Bear, appropriate since many of the travelers and hunters who left offerings here over millennia sought those same powers. I wait in the car, alert, quickened by the knowledge I am not at the top of the food chain, a situation that occurs about frequently enough. In a while, I re-smudge and emerge into the afternoon to wait for the welcome. I feel a prickle down my spine and my face tightens into a big smile. I am welcome. Everything feels fine. I walk the short path to Medicine Rock singing my power song.

Medicine Rock is a huge boulder, six feet high, ten feet across and eight feet deep, nestled in an aspen and oak glen twenty steps off the road. It is thickly garnished with verdant and wild foliage that grows from tiny cracks and narrows shelves on the rock. Encircled by dense growth, riff with elemental forest spirits and tangled in the music of aspen, oak and lark, the old stone is alive, its heart beats once every century. Content, it radiates power. Immediately I am brought fully into the moment, humbled, in awe of the ancient stone. I am afraid to touch it. I tremble.

Walking around the stone on a recently mowed area, I hear a red-tailed hawk overhead, ever-present frequent guardian of sacred places. When I ask the old stone if I can take a few pictures, there is subtle acquiesce from Medicine Rock that escapes the grasp of language. Most inner events at sacred sites are state-specific, that is they exist only in one state and cannot be translated easily or at all into another. At this moment, my physical sensations are shivery and lightness, emotionally I feel very balanced with little bliss currents pulsing through my awareness.

One of the on-site signs explains the Ojibway legend of the mischievous little people who inhabit both the material and spirit worlds. Medicine Rock is thought to be a gateway between realms. To keep the little spirits from becoming malevolent, tobacco offerings are left on the cracks and crevices of Medicine Rock. I leave one of my hand-made feather flyaways on a bush near the old stone, sing my power song again and thank Spirit for getting me here.

Medicine Rock gives me a little gift. Just as I am about to get in the car to leave, I look down and there is a round piece of chert on the ground, about the size of a loonie and covered in little black polka dots. I pick it up and it’s a small scraper with evident chipping along one edge to make it sharp. It is small enough for a child’s hand, perhaps learning the life skills. I ask the scrapper to travel with me and it agrees. Thank you Medicine Rock.

(Over the past few hours while researching and writing this report, I have wondered where the little scrapper might be. I have lost track of it. Searching for something unrelated just a few minutes ago, I accidentally picked up my briefcase by the bottom, spilling its contents all over the floor, scrapper included. Wonder spawns wonder.)

Side view of Medicine Rock

             I drive away elated and fulfilled. Since this is my first visit, I came with no intent other than to discover and explore. My experience at Medicine Rock is worth all the attempts and now becomes another useful part of my personal mythology. As a shamanic resource for me, Medicine Rock generates enormous strength, which I can now access to augment Bear’s contribution. When I need to return, alone or with a spiritual ally, Medicine Rock is an easy site to reach in dry weather, impassable when wet. The road leading into the bush just past the bush through more bush is black dirt, zero gravel.

MEDICINE ROCK VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

TWO FEATHERS MEDICINE WHEEL, SK

Reid Dickie

August 7, 1997

“Entering the awe”

                Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries and soars on the updrafts, “Every moment sacred” its constant message. Here on the ground I am hatless, shirtless, my entire being brought into the moment, present once again among the sacred.

                Situated on the highest hill around, about 25 km west of Leader, SK, Two Feathers Medicine Wheel rests almost exactly on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border just upstream from the confluence of Red Deer River and the South Saskatchewan River. Since I had never seen it referred to by any specific name, I called the site Two Feathers because on my first visit here in 1996, with the wind howling high, cold and fierce, I found two small feathers impossibly stuck in the grass, resisting the wind’s onslaught. Later I discovered people call it Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel because he first homesteaded here.

        

On the right the central cairn of Two Feathers/Roy Rivers Medicine Wheel looking west above the Red Deer River on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border

              When Linda and I traveled through here in 1994, I picked up a free local tourist guide. I always take any free stuff along my journeys. It said, “Visit our medicine wheel.” Okay, where is it? I asked around, found out the present landowner’s name, contacted them for permission and directions and easily found the place first try.

            What a place! The 360-degree panorama is breath taking. I can see for miles! Below the Red Deer River shines like a silver mirror, deep ravines cut the rolling prairie to the north and east, pasture and cultivated fields complete the landscape. Tiny Empress, Alberta sits below the site on the riverbank. The usual prairie flora cover the hillside; prickly pear and pincushion cacti abound making hiking boots essential. Tipi rings dot the surrounding hills.

             The medicine wheel consists of a tall central cairn, over four feet high, surrounded by a single ring of stones that features a double line opening to the south. The cairn, constructed of beautiful, lichened stones, has an indent in the centre of it. My intent is to seek personal guidance on my life purpose. My heart pounds from the arduous climb to the place and the excitement of the moment.

              Present and welcomed, I start my ritual. Walking the outer ring of stones singing my power song and rattling in reverent prayer, I feel higher and lighter with each cycle as I spiral toward the centre sunwise. Songs, which arise spontaneously from my lips, become mere whispers as I step inside the cairn and sit in its “nest.” Easy communing here. In a few moments, I am elated, bubbling over with laughter. The message is direct, clear and powerful. Laughing and crying with gratitude, I repeat over and over “I understand. I understand.”  I feel utterly cared-for and loved, directed and encouraged.

           Lying on my side in the central cairn my sobs and joyousness soon transform into perfect peace and complete humility. I hear laughing voices ripple up the hillside toward me, stone elementals chatter and in the distance, the cry of the red-tailed hawk, guardian of the sacred. All I am is a speck on the wind.

When I feel able, I slowly stand and carefully step out of the cairn. I circle the stones again, singing my power song and thanking the local spirits and the Creator for this day. I float back down the hill in a haze of mosquitoes, weeping, yet feeling ecstatic, utterly at home in myself and in the world.

I have visited Two Feathers Medicine Wheel three times and each time been given the gift of guidance and foresight. Two quotes from my notes after the visit suggest its significance: I felt as if I was “entering the awe” and, later, “blissful to tears.”  My intuition says this sacred place is over 2000 years old. Though no signs of recent medicine making were visible, the place resonates with wise and ancient wisdom, born from the shaman’s drum and the humility of the vision seeker, from the howl of the wolf and the shiver of the quail, from sun, moon, wind and Spirit.

BUFFALO BUTTE CEREMONIAL SITE, SK

Reid Dickie

August 31, 2010

“Excited to get inside”

            Val Marie, SK is a small village with a large history situated at the western end of Grasslands National Park (GNP) and offers the Park office. During my first visit to Val Marie in August 1999, I saw the archeological surveys of the park done in the mid 1980s. The woman at the office mentioned a site had been “discovered” nearby but outside the park. Robert Ducan of The Convent Country Inn can tell me more about it, she says. I introduce myself to Robert, we hit it off and 20 minutes later, we are heading to the site in his half-ton.

            Another wild desolate location! The swoop of the land south and northward away from the site is dramatic. Off down the distance, gently rolling hills spill away in all directions. To the east 70 Mile Butte, a steel-grey monolith in GNP, dominates the landscape. Ragged as a meteor, 70 Mile Butte rises against the sky with subservient hills all around bowing in homage. The site lies south of the continental divide.

Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site. Cinderblock hut and tower are obvious. Less so, the circles in the grass in the foreground. You can see a bit of an arc left of centre. At the extreme left, the geodetic survey marker is visible.

              Buffalo Butte Ceremonial Site, a long high ridge, is dominated by two huge concentric stone circles, one 120 feet across, the other 90 feet across. The circles lie in a slight indentation two feet lower than the hilltop. It has a wonderfully enclosed feeling though the indentation is slight. This area was at one time on the hilltop but the land sank. Inside the circles are a birthing arc opening east, where mothers came to give birth, and a dying arc opening west, where elders came to die. These are extremely rare in North America, somewhat more common in Europe.

The ridge displays evidence of long usage, tracing the history of the region. To the west of the circles is an area that felt like the location of several burial platforms, reused for decades, perhaps longer.  At the top of the hill next to the circle is a small oblong enclosure of stones that is a vision quest site. It opens to the south, the heat, the visions, the hope.

There are several tumbledown cairns, two of them, I sensed, signified water and were visible from different directions. A snake effigy seemed to materialize but I will have to recheck this. It may have been state-specific. I’m certain of the geodetic survey marker from the late 1800s though.

Southeast of the large circle is an odd rectangular shape of stones with what appears to be letters inside, maybe ME or MB, WE or BW., possibly graffiti left behind by some bored survey crewmember, North West Mounted Police officer or wandering wrangler.

A hut made of cinder blocks next to a tall red and white tower sit at the top of the ridge. An electrical line runs over the pasture to the hut but I have been unable to discover its exact usage. Three guy wires hold the tower in place. A deer had scuffed off its antlers by rubbing on the wires, its four-prongers lay on the ground. The tower doesn’t interfere with the ambience much and serves as a too-handy landmark to locate the site. The land is rented Crown land with roaming cattle and cow plop everywhere, though I see no cattle today. The day is warming quickly.

During the hike over two-miles of rolling pasture, I watch for rattlesnakes and notice how my mood has improved vastly from my sad morning drive. Tipi rings litter the hills. I check downwind often to make sure I am still at the top of the food chain. Up the final hill, I’m tingly with holiness, welcomed and exhilarated. I am excited to get inside.

In a light trance, I recognize the long-time ritual use of the place as much as 9,000 years before present. The arcs are a very old aspect of the site. They are also rare. They come from the imaginal realm in my dreaming. My feeling is that the people who used them are, as a race, now extinct; lost shards of human action, their world gone, even their mythologies now mute except for these stones.

 

My rough hand drawn map of the site made after my first visit. I hadn’t added the inside circle yet. Suggests the numerous uses of the place. Click to enlarge.

                 The required presence of mind one needs at this place is intense and sharp. There is very serious and powerful intent at work here, not to be toyed with but to be respected and honored. The illusions of time and death dissolve into the present here, a perfect Witnessing place.

“Balancing change” broadly describes the emotional temperature of the place.  All manner of flux and mutability occurred here, some easy and organic, some difficult and deadly. Transformation and transcendence are soaked into the earth under my feet. A Overhead a red-tailed hawk cries, “Every moment sacred.”

Standing in the birthing arc I hear a vague turtle shell rattle, its dry brittle sound complements the landscape. During my 2 ½ hour stay I often hear voices traveling on the wind. Sometimes they are conversations, often a bit of shy laughter. No agony, no pain on the wind today – only the bliss of place and life. Voices often come out of the earth. I walk past a richly lichened rock and a crackle of communication arises from it, the groan of the stone. Attracted by one such voice I realized I am looking at a disturbed turtle effigy.

Spiritually, the site provides easy access to soul via the present and benevolent spirits alive to the needs of those seekers who come here. There was a time when this place was used almost exclusively by shamans who created special conditions so people could move in and out of life in a place and fashion they knew. Shamans were born and died here, heyoka arose out of contracted consciousness to live their duality here, women who would be matriarchs were born here only to return and give birth themselves.

Tucked between two stones in the centre of the dying arc are signs of recent medicine making: a brown and white hawk feather and a small bundle of sage bound with grass. Beautiful!

Though not used ritually by any present day aboriginals the place is visited by tourists, many of a spiritual nature who stay at The Convent Country Inn. Robert and Mette often speak of the power of this site to their guests. Access is now limited to hiking in, no vehicles allowed. More shamans than archeologists have visited here. Apparently, no archeologist has ever visited the site, leaving it virtually unstudied.

Prairie Rock Graffiti. Stone rectangle with initials inside. 

                I find this spot fascinating not just for its active and helpful local spirits, but for its long and varied usage. A power place re-interpreted often over the millennia, this is a list of uses from the present back:

Cow pasture

Transmitting/receiving tower?

Geodetic Survey Marker

Graffiti in rocks

Campsite

Platform burial site

Turtle effigy and cairn site

Vision quest site

Rites of passage initiated/celebrated

Rituals performed

Birthing and dying arcs

Big stone ceremonial circle

Animal trail

On my little digital recorder as I am leaving Buffalo Butte, my voice is quavery and hushed. “I’m alive! I’m alive! Here, there and everywhere. Linda is alive! Here, there and everywhere. Wherever there is beauty, that is where Linda lives.”

ST VICTOR’S PETROGLYPHS, SK

Reid Dickie

August 13, 1995

“To carve, to celebrate, to become”

             Above and south of the tiny village of St Victor, SK a row of sandstone outcrops protrude over Sylvan Valley. The view from the place is spectacular. To the north Montague Lake is a blue dash among yellow and green fields checked with black summer fallow. To the west is Twelve Mile Lake; in the east is Willow Bunch Lake. All three of these lakes are remnants of a wide and deep spillway filled for thousands of years with torrents of glacial meltwater. Though invisible, you are perched on the Continental Divide.

            Etched into the top of one of the sandstone promontories is a variety of petroglyphs, images hand carved in the stone. Turtles, human faces, grizzly bear paws with long claws, human hands and feet, buffalo, elk and deer prints with dewclaws are carved into the horizontal sandstone surface.

St Victors Petroglyphs, on the flat stone beyond the fence, and its incredible setting along the western side of the Missouri Coteau. The sandstone carvings are now protected by the fence. The verdant  landscape attests to the amount of rain during 2010 summer.

            Near the outer edge of the stone, there are carvings of two human feet aligned so the next step would be into thin air or perhaps onto the ice. It’s possible this small site was an unglaciated area during the last Ice Age and the ice abutted this cliff.

            Usually petroglyphs are carved on vertical surfaces. This site is unusual because the images are on a horizontal surface making the petroglyphs difficult to see in broad daylight, claims the pamphlet. I’ve never had any problem seeing them no matter what time of day I visit. The technique used to create the carvings begins with a pecking tool and a hammer stone to create a rough outline. Then the carvers used a stick of wood with sand and water to grind out the centre and smooth the edges.

Access to the petroglyphs has changed radically since my last visit. Formerly you walked up the side of the cliff on a wooden staircase, 165 steps in all. Along the way, you could marvel at the beautifully eroded sandstone chiseled, hollowed and polished by the rains. One year, in a deep crevice on the way up the cliff, I saw two turkey vulture chicks. The shiny black parent circled high and eerie above me the whole visit. Today you drive up the hill at the rear, park and follow a path to the glyphs a few hundred yards away.

Previously you could walk onto the carvings and touch them. Their delicate nature carved into sandstone meant a wire fence had to be erected to protect them from the extra wear, tear and erosion of curious tourist hands and feet. The signage and seating you see in the picture are new as well.

Shamanic carvings on a sandstone outcrop near St Victor, SK. If you half close your eyes, other images besides the big weird head will start to appear.

               Some archeologists think hunters or maybe shamans carved these images. Often at sacred places, I can see the surrounding hillsides littered with encampments, tipis and little fires. The petroglyphs are different. Although the rolling uncultivated landscape could support it, there are no tipi rings anywhere. This is a holy place. My old vision of the place is that individuals came here on personal pursuits, loners with missions, shamans on sacred journeys. They came to grind symbols into this rock to celebrate the mysteries of life, not to explain them, to evoke the spirits, not conquer them. They returned time and again to continue their Creation.

            Although the update on changes to the site is from a visit in 2010, I will report on my first visit to St Victor’s Petroglyphs on August 13, 1995. I drove in from the north in heavy wind and rain but after a short wait at the site the clouds broke and the sun peeked through. Well bundled against the persistent cold wind, I climb the stairs.

            At first sight, I see the work of shamans, the evocative emblems of their day: grizzly bear claws, diving turtles, dewclaws of deer and human visages. I sense their peril when they returned here in high winds like today to carve, to celebrate, to become. I receive more specifics as I start to leave.

Spirit gave me an incredible gift on that day. A shaman of indiscernible origin named Broken Fingers was a major carver on this rock. He worked here over 1500 years ago. I sense gnarled fingers and hands thick with scars. In light trance, I can hear his low voice muttering away against the scraping of stone against stone. He sings a creation song as he carves. Old Broken Fingers was not the only person to carve here though his style is distinctive. The bear claws and turtles are examples of his detailed nuance.

Replicas of the petroglyph images carved at St. Victor’s. The two large grizzly bear claws and the two turtles on the left side are Broken Fingers’ work. They have a noticeable delicacy the others don’t have.

            Broken Fingers appeared as an old man when I first met him. The next time he was accompanied by a young apprentice called Crow Bear. He was an attentive student, suffered the hardships of the work gladly and promised to be an expert carver. Some of the less defined works at the petroglyphs are by Crow Bear. He died at age 25 and was among the last people to carve here.

For about five years after meeting Broken Fingers, he stayed close, an active and protective spirit for me when I traveled anywhere. Although less significant in my life now, Broken Fingers looms large in my shamanic mythology.

STAR MOUND, MB

Reid Dickie

 July 2, 2010

“The cone of silence descends over me”

            In extreme southern Manitoba, a few kilometers from the North Dakota border outside of Snowflake, MB, the prairie rises sharply into a 200-foot high hill, one of several mounds in the area, used as a landmark for millennia. This is my second visit to Star Mound, a precious little site that harbours reminders from several significant eras.

            Easy to access on a good gravel road, Star Mound offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the prairies. Rolling hills cut with treed breaks flow off to the north, shadows of massive lazy clouds slide across the land, the garish colours of the monoculture glow. Explorer La Verendrye witnessed this vista; artist Paul Kane made sketches from its summit. Instead of tractors, half tons and toxic canola yellow, their landscape had buffalo, tipis and tall rippling grass. Had they come in spring, they would have found the sides of Star Mound glorious with crocuses.

Beaver shaped burial mound, tail to left, body to right, with flagpole, sign and geodetic marker on top

           The heat thickens but the hilltop is cooler than the flatland below. The gentle slope of the hillside scoops up every little zephyr creating a constant breeze that keeps the sweat and bugs at bay. Tiny happy voices winkle on the wind.

            I wait for the telling welcome and feel it behind my eyes. I smile and rattle a small gratitude song. Stripping off my shirt and shoes, I sing my power song as I enter the site. Prominent on top of the hill is a large burial mound in the shape of a beaver, one of only two such relics in western Canada. The mound is about 8 feet high, 20 feet across and 50 feet long. Hidatsa and Mandan used it for centuries to bury their dead and hold ritual. Now it’s my turn.

I have come with a modest intent: to encounter the local spirits and discover healing possibilities they may have. Circling the mound in a slow sunwise dance, singing my power song and spontaneously gesturing, I feel the place bring me into its deep present. The veil is thin here. The cone of silence descends over me and I am awake and alive inside Spirit once again.

Climbing to the flat top of the mound, I lay on the mowed grass and wait, quickened, present, perfectly still. Little earth and wind elemental spirits surround me. The wind blows through me, my skin and the earth’s skin commune, the Ancients stir underground and bliss awakens in me. I burn here, languishing in pure pleasure. Ecstatic again! The bliss in this case stems from the harmonic integration of all three aspects of my being – body, mind and spirit. Here and at most sacred sites, when that integration occurs, I am healed on every level possible, including the psychic, subtle and causal realms. The simple act of integration begins the healing, thereafter my intent combines with my spirit helpers  I rise and give thanks for another rejuvenating encounter with Spirit.

On top of the burial mound, a flagpole flies the Canadian flag, a small sign signifies the mound and a three-foot tall cement marker from the geodetic survey of the Canada-US border indicates distance to the border. Star Mound School, sits next to the mound. The school is so well preserved and furnished as a museum, you could walk in, sit a class down and begin teaching. It is an honourable reminder of the one-room schoolhouse.

The top of the hill features several huge boulders moved in for an unknown purpose but beautifully displayed next to the school. Excellent meditation stones! On the west end of the hilltop a suspicious buffalo rub stone has been brought in and signed. Trying to figure out where the buffalo rubbed against the stone seemed too difficult. I think they positioned the stone wrong when they set it down.

As I sit in the Avenger writing this report in my journal, a half ton truck rattles up the hillside and parks next to me. Bert Moyer gets out and introduces himself. He grew up five miles from here and farms five miles from here “but in the opposite direction.” Bert is “a reader, not a watcher. Goddamn TV!” We hit it off and spend half an hour jawing.

Star Mound School opened in 1886 and closed in 1962. Now an excellent museum, it sits next to the burial mound.

           This is the “according to Bert” section of the report. Bert says this is the sixth location of the school and points out the other five locations in the landscape. He didn’t attend this school. He tells me the hill is composed of “200 feet of bentonite and the usual glacial junk under that,” and points out the hole a few away where they drilled to get this information. Bert tells me Star Mound is one of three mounds around here. Pilot Mound to the east and another one, whose name Bert can’t remember, just across the border in North Dakota.

            Bert says this place is respected and cherished by people around here. He’s come to clean up after last night’s fireworks display for Canada Day. “Had near a thousand people out here for it.” I am amazed! The site is virtually clear and clean but for a ballpoint pen I found in the grass. There is zero garbage anywhere on the hill. Bert will have an easy job cleaning up.

             Whether or not we fully appreciate the power of a sacred site, people often feel an unbidden respect for them, something transformational that affirms they are a human being here now. Star Mound is one of those places – accessible, holy and respected.

 BOISSEVAIN DANCING GROUND, MB

Reid Dickie

 June 21, 2010

“The ensouled sunrise and the ecstasy”

            Outside of Boissevain, MB the Lorna Smith Nature Centre sits atop a rise above the Boissevain Reservoir. This is actually a dancing ground or ceremonial site that was used for centuries. Though there are no stone designs laid out on the ground, this site is the hub of a medicine wheel, an astrological observation point based on seasonal time.

            I have visited here at various times of year and day and always felt a strong urge to experience it on summer solstice sunrise ever since I found out about this site from local historian James Ritchie in 2003. This year it happened and what better way to experience it than on a five-day sacred journey with my young spiritual ally Chris in the passenger seat. We camped the night before at William Lake Campground just east of Turtle Mountain, making our trip to the dancing ground for sunrise about a 30-minute drive. Our campground and the ceremonial site are both located on the 100th meridian, “where the Great Plains begin.”

Spirit moves through the perfection of the morning

           From this site, it is possible to see stone cairns or circles laid out across the land aligned to the sunrise and sunset of the winter and summer solstices. To the SE in the distance there is a mound with a farmhouse on it and to the SW there is a cairn of white (painted with limestone paste by aboriginals) rocks. These two points mark the sunrise (128 degrees) and sunset (232 degrees) of the winter solstice, the shortest day.

To the NE of the dancing ground there is a pile of white stones across the reservoir and to the NW, there are a line of burial mounds. These two points mark the sunrises (52 degrees) and sunset (308 degrees) of the summer solstice, the longest day. From this one spot it is possible to tell the exact times of the solstices. This site expanded my definition of the term “medicine wheel” to include not just a stone circle with lines radiating from it but the whole general area and prominent points nearby.

Though the sky is mainly cloudy as we drive to the dancing ground on solstice morning, a clear gap in the eastern sky hintsat a new day. The opening in the clouds persists until well after sunrise then the gap closed and the rain started just as we were leaving.

Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass in the car and brought our awarenesses firmly into the moment making sure not to approach the site “in neutral.” This is a rule I learned when visiting ancient places where thousands of beings, organic and inorganic, have paused over the millennia. Be present and alert, engage your spirit helpers for protection and discover the site in your own way.

 Overlooking Boissevain Reservior, the hub of the medicine wheel

         Places and times as significant as this require some guidance for their power, needing an intent or purpose. I am at the stage where I need to shed or integrate the final harrowing gasps of remorse and regret that have haunted me badly since early April. With them, the depression arose. Although I have developed useful personal resources to deal with depression, when its sources are regret and guilt coated in grief, I am much less effective. Diluting my depression is another part of my intent.

            Chris and I are the only people here. In the east, a small purple bruise is starting to appear against the late blue night. Out of the car and into the fresh cool night turning into day, I am in one of those in-between places where shamans can express themselves fully. It feels comfortable and good but I must be welcomed. I quietly sing my power song then state my intent for the visit.  I wait for a subtle relaxation of the contraction of being. Until I feel the knot loosen a bit, I’m unsure if I am welcome. Having visited the site several times over the past few years, this morning I am welcomed as the local spirits recognize my power song. I smile with gratitude.

A promise of gold gleams on the eastern horizon. I feel Webbed Flight pass through me laterally, his way of refraining from the day. I don’t feel him again that morning. Linda gets my eyes. She sees with delight the burgeoning day.

Solstice extremes for Boissevain, MB (lat: 49 degrees 10 feet)

             The tall grass is wet with sweet dew as I kneel and face the east. I pray quietly, sing my power song in gratitude and re-intend, re-intend. Crimson hues streak the emerging gold. I am directed to a stone in one corner of the fenced meadow. As soon as I find it in the long grass, I sit there. I feel reaped of heavy remorse, guilt peels away from me and I am re-emerging, becoming, evolving. Some regret shifts away from me to the stone. I find another stone in the opposite corner and sit there. More remorse, more depression leaves me. The stones in the other two corners each liberate me more, drawing the processed grief out of me. Though drenched in dew, I feel new lightness haunt me, Linda’s voice whispers in my head, “Be happy, be happy,” always the same message. The east is almost alive with morning.

            Chris’ experience at powerful sacred places like this one is not as broad as mine. I catch his glance across the waving grass to see him smiling, glowing in the morning. Chris is fine, well prepared for this. The thought reassures me and frees me.

At that moment, the first rays of day reach us. In the pure love of the dawn I am ecstatic, the purview of the shaman. Light pours through me and I dance soaked with dew, laughing, flying, being. I gather the special energy of this new day in my body through my hands, eyes and face. I turn toward Chris and see he too is dipped in gold, awake, aware, alive. Behind him, the sky is grey with imminent rain and across it, a perfect, vivid rainbow. Always a sign of hope and endurance in my life, the rainbow reinforces the healing of the stones, the ensouled sunrise and the ecstasy in which I am immersed. It is impossible not to laugh in sheer joy, feeling loved and alive.

THUNDERBIRD NEST, MB

Reid Dickie

 July 31, 2007

“It amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom”

            It was the height of summer, the last day of July. A month of record-breaking temperatures and dangerous humidity was ending. Change was in the air.

            Originally, my friend Chris and I had planned a trip and hike to the Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park but with daily humidex advisories, going to a place that was usually 10 degrees hotter than the surrounding area seemed unwise. Instead, we opted for Thunderbird Nest, an old Ojibwa site located about two hours north of Winnipeg.

            Located just west of the Lake Manitoba Narrows, Thunderbird Nest was not a new site for me. I had visited it first and twice in 2001 but not since.  Chris had never been there.

Appropriately unassuming and humble, Thunderbird Nest brought visions of healing and the future to shamans who performed ritual here.

            The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

Thunderbird Nest may have been built to attract the Thunderbird, which would reward its builders with sacred powers. Used for at least 1000 years, one of its purposes has been as a vision quest site. Secluded and in self-denial of food, water, clothing and comfort, exposed to the elements, the warrior cried for a vision to guide and protect him, longing for the Thunderbird to appear in his dream.

Shamans frequently used this site to acquire or contact helpful spirits and experience extraordinary ecstatic powers. This is part of my silent intent for today’s visit.

Taking Chris’ car, we head north on Highway #6 into the Interlake. The highway follows the east coast of Lake Manitoba and passes through a number of small interesting communities.

St. Laurent, a tiny Metis community, has a small stony beach and a reputation for frequent UFO and chupacabra sightings. A little further along is Eriksdale, which boasts of being the hiding place of Stony Mountain Penitentiary escapee Percy Moggey who spent 11 months in a shack after going over the wall in 1960. A replica of his shack is now a tourist attraction with tours available!

A few kilometers north of Eriksdale, we turned off Highway 6 onto Highway 68. The landscape changed with more rocky areas and pastures replacing cropland. There is more bush, evergreens and little traffic. The highway is incredibly smooth and drivable.

We reached the Narrows, with its small attempt at tourist amenities on the east side. Boaters, campers and some picnickers were immersed in the heat. We slowly drove over the long bridge that connects the shores, feeling the heart of Manitou beating nearby.  A kilometer or two later we saw a sign pointing out an upcoming historic site, Thunderbird Nest. We turned south onto a good gravel road into the bush. Soon a small area opened up on our left. Thunderbird Nest was about a quarter mile down a walking trail from here. We parked. My anticipation rose.

Approaching sacred sites, I am always filled with an awe that quickens me, that strives to bypass my senses and make direct contact with my inner being. Some sites have more immediacy but eventually all of them produce this effect. Even writing this now, I feel some of the same joy and eagerness I felt at the Thunderbird Nest, attesting to its lasting and powerful effects.

Chris and I smudged with sweetgrass before we got out of the car. I said a prayer of gratitude, asking for protection and positive spirits to help us.

We stepped into the day, the place. It was sweltering. The high humidity persisted but there was a notion of change in the air, something imminent.

Chris brought a large flat drum and some rattles which he opted to leave in the car for now. Carrying just light waters, we proceeded down the trail toward Thunderbird Nest.  Large flat white stones washed smooth by repeated floods cobble the path on this peninsula, which juts out between Lake Manitoba and Ebb and Flow Lake.

         Signs leading to Thunderbird Nest suggest some of the site’s uses.

            We turned right on the lead-up to the site. A few signs along the way gave some background about Thunderbird mythology and vaguely prepared us for the site. A hundred yards from the site the trees on both sides of the trail were festooned with brightly coloured cloths, small tobacco packets on strings and a few feathers, offerings left by previous visitors to Thunderbird Nest.

            Walking slowly we approached the Thunderbird Nest. I put down my sack, shirt, hat, and paused, waiting, waiting. There is a small contraction that you can feel behind your eyes, the contraction of being. It is usually tight and tense. At sacred sites, the contraction subtly loosens. I waited for the loosening that signals acceptance of me at the site. I felt it and a stab of joy shot through me. I began smiling, a prelude to ecstasy.

            Set in a small clearing among aspens and hoary bur oak rests a shallow indentation in the ground, about eight feet across, lined with lichened flat stones. Thunderbird Nest! Doesn’t sound like much in the description, which is exactly how it should be.

My shamanic practice resulted in my gaining a spirit friend and helper, the adventurous soul of a shaman who lived in eastern Manitoba about 1200 years ago. Webbed Flight is what he prefers to be called; I sometimes call him Duck Feet to be playful. He is a daily presence in my life and has helped me through all the challenges I’ve faced since the mid 1990s.

One of the obligations I have to my spirit friend is to help him “live again.” This is one form my gratitude takes for Webbed Flight’s help in my life. Sacred sites are excellent places to do this, especially this one since Webbed Flight had often visited similar sites in eastern Manitoba during his lifetime. I immediately gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight who began a slow ritual that involved spiraling into the actual nest.

What do I mean by “gave my awareness over to Webbed Flight?” A fair question since it sounds frightening, dangerous and unpredictable. Without the appropriate inner technology, it can be a harrowing exercise. Ably and confidently applied, the way of presence, intent and awareness through love and trust opens your spirit to the inorganic world safely and in a sacred manner.

Because all depth is interpreted, at this point, words become increasingly insufficient to express the rest of my experience but I’ll try to find a few more. Physically what happens to me is I begin to speak in Webbed Flight’s language, to express what he needs to say, the prayers he needs to give, the gratitude he needs to express, the laughter and tears he needs to experience. I laughed and prayed, danced and cried. It all came pouring out of me without stint, without reserve, without embarrassment into the heat of the afternoon.

             Other expressions Webbed Flight uses are gestures that involve his sign language, which acts as visual accent to the sounds he makes. His sign language uses the right hand to touch his left forearm and hand in various places with numerous motions. He often touches his face and head for emphasis. In India, these gestures and motions are called mudras.

Verbally and visually, I have no idea what Webbed Flight is actually expressing. What I get, what I feel is the emotional impact of his experience. In a word, ecstasy. Whatever currents carry Webbed Flight along is what I feel. From his dark sadness to his bliss, no matter what the emotional signature is, for me it amounts to ecstasy, a taste of freedom.

This ecstasy is the pay-off for my years of practice, for seeking out the inner technology discovered centuries ago, adopting it, practicing it, my reward for doing the inner work. The ecstasy is extremely state-specific so to attempt a description is almost futile. Suffice it to say the ecstasy flows out of the sense of freedom and detachment found when one rests as simple awareness.

As I am expressing for Webbed Flight I walk slowly around the outside of Thunderbird Nest sunwise. My body is loose and full of energy but calm, able to strike angular poses that seem to strengthen my connection to Webbed Flight. I spiral toward the outer rim of stones of the nest. I pause, crouch and spend several blissful moments in silent prayer.  I am sharing a prayer with Webbed Flight.

I rise from my prayer at the edge and step, welcomed, into the Nest. Webbed Flight’s singing rises louder among the trees. I stand, alone in the centre of the Nest. Yet I am not alone. He lives again. The ecstasy flows through me, stoned in the original sense of the word. Luckily, I am familiar and comfortable with the feeling.

I rest in that place, that place of freedom and detachment from the land, the sky and the 10,000 things arising in my awareness. I sense joy pulse through me.

All sacred sites have spirit guardians that watch over the place. Some have physical guardians that play the same role. Thunderbird Nest has fire ants as its guardian. The ground around the Nest and the Nest itself swarmed with large, red ants. They were aggressive and attacked our bare feet and legs, nipping at our flesh. Should you injure one of them, it sprays a fluid that attracts the other nearby ants, alerting them to the interloper and signaling a mass attack. They are hard to discourage and harder to ignore but after a while, they begin to pay less attention to us. They settle a little for us. Later Chris and I compared bites – round red bumps, not itchy…yet. Mine went away quickly.

During our time at the Nest, the sky slowly changed. Darker clouds moved in from the west. Chris retrieved his beautiful drum from the car and beat a wilderness pulse into the afternoon. At times, the distant rolling thunder was a perfect echo to his beat.

I found the drum provided a more balanced awareness in Webbed Flight and me as I began to sing my personal power song. He and I shared the joy of the sound. In a rather mad expression of silliness, we danced an exaggerated clown-like dance with large ragged steps and fanciful yips. Later I realized this was a balancing of the coming change in the weather, where humour and fun overpower any anxiety. It worked.

There was a moment when I looked at Chris, walking past him, that I was seeing him for the first time using the eyes of Webbed Flight. Another similar moment occurred near the end of our stay.

Suddenly a cool breeze that felt refreshing and new on our skin swept by us. It was the first sign of a change in the weather, the harbinger. Chris and I both felt its arrival. With a glance and a smile, we instinctually knew it was time to go.

We smudged some sage and cedar in a shell before leaving, thanking the local spirits for their protection and for the bliss we had found in this wild place. As we did this, the first intermittent rain drops began to fall on Chris’ drum, each making a hollow lonely thud.

On the way out at the offering site, I hung a flyaway I had made with some seeds from our backyard, jute string and a red feather. I hung it next to the path, commenting that some curious raven might like the feather to decorate its nest.

We discharged any negative spirits that may have followed us. More correctly, Webbed Flight dispelled them with jagged gestures and sudden barks.

The rain began to fall heavier as we walked down the trail. Chris used his shirt to cover the drum til we got to the car. The cool rain felt wonderful on our bare summer backs. We toweled down and as we sat in the car, lightning flared and thunder rolled above us. It poured rain.

Though I do not presume to know his inner life, from our discussions on the way home, Chris said he approached the place humbly seeking acceptance and worthiness. Once he found that, Thunderbird Nest welcomed him. His beaming face was evidence of the ecstasy he, too, found there.

The rain poured down as we crossed the bridge over the Narrows and Chris pulled off the highway next to the stony beach. He needed to wash a stone in the rain and Lake Manitoba. Lightning flashed overhead as the rain pelted down. This moment was utterly alive for me, so full of energy and bliss, a coda to Thunderbird Nest and the overture to the next stage.

Toweled down again, we proceed retracing our path toward home. It wasn’t long before we drove out of the rain and back into the summer heat as the storm was slowly coming across the lake at an angle. At Lundar, about 45 minutes later, we stopped for country coffee-like substances. As we stood in the heat, the cool breeze came by, the same cool breeze that heralded the change at Thunderbird Nest. Both Chris and I noticed the breeze and commented on it.

The rest of the journey into Winnipeg was the usual easy conversation that Chris and I share, enjoyable, a fitting end to the day.

The city still sweltered, not yet getting the storm that brings the change. That evening, about a quarter to twelve, I stepped out onto the back deck at our house. The sky was clear, still muggy. As I stood there, the same cool breeze came by, the very same one. Later that night a thunderstorm brought the change.

THUNDERBIRD NEST VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

The Thunderbird in Ojibwa and Cree legend was a super eagle with a wing span two canoes wide capable of transforming into human form. The Thunderbird spoke thunder and lightning flashed from its eyes. Difficult to see because of its disguise as black swirling clouds, the Thunderbird fed only on snakes and protected humankind from the Great Horned Serpent of the Underworld. This area of Manitoba supports a large red-sided garter snake population. Many Thunderbird Nests are found in eastern Manitoba but this is the only one west of Lake Manitoba.

A report on a visit to the site in 2007 is posted here. This fall I returned to Thunderbird Nest and recorded this video report.

BANNOCK POINT PETROFORMS, MB

Reid Dickie

August 17, 2000

“Songs spontaneously arise in me”

            The Cree call it Manito Ahbee; the tourist guides call it Bannock Point Petroforms. Whatever it’s called, this easily accessible place is ancient, alive with Spirit and a creation site. The dense forest gives way to open areas of dark, pavement-like rock. Patchy carpets of dry crackly black moss grow on the tablerock. Human, snake, turtle and other shapes are laid out on the bald tablerock of the Canadian Shield in Whiteshell Provincial Park, rocks just slightly younger than Spirit itself.

            This is where Webbed Flight, my spirit helper, lived about 1200 years ago. He is very energized every time I visit here, as he is today.

As I arrive, the clouds break into pieces of the sky and the day warms quickly. After smudging, I step into the fresh spruce aroma of the Whiteshell.  Immediately I am welcomed, calmed and reassured by Webbed Flight that I am protected here. I say a short prayer of gratitude and, singing my power song, walk the short path to the site. I shiver with a strong and benevolent Bear presence and with the love I feel from the local spirits.

Creation legends say Great Spirit set the Anishinabe people down on Earth here among the rocks and trees. The energy flow from this places rushes westward. The Anishinabe followed that energy and their culture of animal symbolism diffused across the prairies. Today a reverent stillness pervades the place.

I wander the site with Webbed Flight strong and available to me. He sings his short raspy song; I feel his bliss. He is home! I sense his delight when a snake effigy, short, old and big-headed, almost knocks me flat as I stand at the end of its tail, toes touching the last rock. Snakes are short power vectors that concentrate energy into intense bursts. Instead of falling, I sense flight and regain my balance immediately. Deeper in the site, the head of another snake sends me into spontaneous dancing, gesturing and singing. Movement is very important here, so much open space to inhabit with it.

Spirits abound in all corners of the site, the edges are alive with forest elementals and at ground level there is a greenish haze from the abundant snickering lichen. Off on an enormous flat stone, a large ceremonial circle with openings at the four directions encloses trees laden with colourful cloths. Tobacco and other offering abound on the stones. How much divinity has passed through this place? How long has the human spirit communed with the Absolute here? This place has existed for but one moment – this moment!

I circle it slowly, presently, rattling softly. Songs spontaneously arise in me surging out of my mouth into the warm day. My hands gesture a visual language accentuated by chest thumps. Deeply communing with Webbed Flight now, my voice becomes his, my words his meaning, my breath his wisdom. I feel balanced, a completion occurring every moment. I am ecstatic to give voice and sacred manner to the loving powerful spirit of Webbed Flight, my friend, my mentor, my guardian. I am Aspen Smoke because of him and his naming.

Over the years, Webbed Flight has guided me on the path in my brightest moments and searched til he found me wallowing in the darkest mires. He lives again through me but never have I experienced his being with such power and clarity, such love and perfection, as I do when we share this familiar place. Here we both living the same dream.

Section of large ceremonial circle at Bannock Point. Trees hung with offering cloths

              We are the conceptualizing animal, thus able to give meaning to Nature. Here, to express the unfathomable ancientness of these exact rocks, ancestors created sacred forms and figures with pieces of old old rocks. It is impossible for us to know the lack of cynicism and trust in Spirit these people felt as they laid rock next to vulnerable rock on barren stone. It was body-to-body communing, the living earth inhabits the living body and vice versa. At the same time, Spirit rides that delicate balance, Eros and Agape, the One into the Many, the Many into the One. Other sites in this series have that same reciprocating flow.

           Rocks once touched by ecstatic shamans still pound with the power of creation, thrum with a sense of place from which creativity springs. Sometimes the safety I feel at these sacred places is almost unbearable. I am in a state of grace, liquid in the environment, welcomed, even coddled. I share this feeling with Webbed Flight and we sit together on sitting stones he first knew as a boy. As a shaman, he claims to have made petroforms here himself, imbuing them with the necessary power and symbolism.

            Roaming away from the circle, I find a small abstract design tucked under a bush. I strip off my shirt and perform my warrior tai chi around the little cluster of stones. I can’t stop smiling. Neither can Spirit.

BANNOCK POINT PETROFORMS VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

BANNOCK POINT CEREMONIAL CIRCLE VIDEO REPORT 

Reid Dickie

MINTON TURTLE EFFIGY, MB

Reid Dickie

July 19, 2010 

“Stoned in the original sense of the word”

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”

Sioux proverb

            Cast 65 feet across the top of the highest hill around lies an intact outline in stones of a huge turtle. Its shell is a large rock carapace out of which grows a bluff of chokecherries. While some smaller turtle effigies were markers to indicate water in the direction the turtle faced, this site, over 2000 years old, served a more spiritual purpose. This is a dancing ground, a ceremonial site.

This stock picture shows the stone Turtle effigy laid out with the pile of stones at the centre of its shell. The head is in the foreground and the body  widely surrounds the bushes and rockpile.

             I imagine the undulating hills around filled with angular tents and soft plumes of white smoke and above them, the sacred turtle. The hill I stand on and those I see to the northwest are part of the eastern edge of the Missouri Coteau. The Continental Divide passes just north of here. Below and to the south of the effigy you can see the white alkaline east end of Big Muddy Lake. Since the effigy is next to a plowed field, I always express gratitude that is remains here at all and recognize how close it came to being destroyed. I never miss the irony of our modern definition of energy as it is pulled out of the ground and stored in the oil storage area below the effigy.

            The hills around the Turtle Effigy are velvet and verdant this year with all the moisture. Sloughs that haven’t existed in decades reappeared this year. Rolling hills and the good gravel transport me to the site. That old familiar tingling in my hips and spine and the skin tightening around my face starts as I near Turtle.

            One change since Chris and I were here a month ago is the access road, then knee deep in weeds, now graded with the weeds towering along the side of the short trail up to the site. I park several hundred feet away from the site.

            After smudging myself with sweetgrass in the car, I approach Turtle singing my power song. Overhead a red-tailed hawk, eternal guardian, cries on the updrafts. I walk the outer circle of stones as I sing my power song. I feel recognized and welcomed as I stand at Turtle’s head, waiting. I am welcomed into the effigy.

                  Illustration of Minton Turtle effigy

           At the centre of Turtle is a pile of rocks out of which grows a thicket of chokecherry bushes. On the leeside there is an indentation in the tall grass. I left this indentation there a month ago, maybe it has been reinforced by sleeping deer. As happened last month, I am thrown to the ground on this spot and lay on the hot earth with the hot sun pouring over it all. Out of the wind with the grass walling me in, I am filled with amazing warmth that transcends sensation and just simply is, here and now. I feel blissful in my little space, enclosed but connected, at home, at ease.

After a few minutes I stand, rather wobbly, and thank Turtle for the healing. It’s time to leave an offering but not before I walk back to the car and take a breather from the intensity of the place. I must be vigilant about how much of this energy I can handle at one time. Turtle will provide but in small doses.

As I meditate on an offering in the car, the prairie breeze weaves the tall grass into a subtle floating song. A month ago, my offering was a flyaway – some beads and feathers I strung together – which I left flying from one of the chokecherry bushes on the carapace. Though tangled it still flutters there.

Turtle indicates an offering of water would be appropriate this visit. I fill my water bottle from a jug of Winnipeg water I carry with me. Singing my power song, I approach the head of Turtle and spray water on the rocks that form its large head. Once the water is gone, I stand, eyes closed, still, silent, present, waiting, waiting.

Turtle’s message to me is sudden and clear – be happy! It’s not a reiteration of Linda’s “be happy” but an entirely new kind of “be happy”, one that grows out of me, a happiness that burns from within me. I start to laugh and laugh. When I open my eyes three little yellow butterflies dance happily, dizzily, in the air over the grass. I start to laugh at their perfect antics and they become funnier and funnier. I am stoned in the original sense of the word.

How seldom we find perfection yet, here, atop the highest hill within view, I have found perfection – simple, direct, unmitigated perfection. I feel the presence and love of all the generations who came here before me to pray, to worship, to seek this perfection. Laughing voices ripple up the side of the hill toward me. Now and then, a sharp keening quells the laughter and a moment of sorrow arrives, abides then passes. Perfection.

I return to the car for a break and sip home water for the day is hot, the sun very near today. I approach the effigy again, singing my power song and am asked to attend the heart stone. Every effigy I have seen has included a heart stone placed where the heart of the animal would be. In Turtle’s case, the heart stone is a small bed of stones about three feet square on the upper left side of the form. I stand at the heart stone, waiting. I have sat on this heart stone before and been given gentle direction and urgings. This time the message is immediately clear.

Battleship clouds have sailed by all day, their moving shadows I can see coming for miles across the rolling land. I am told to lay my naked body on the heart stone in the sunshine. I stand and wait for the cloud to pass, strip and lay face down on the heart stone. The tall grass encloses me. The energy of the stones overwhelms me, I am immersed in a heat that burns somehow outside and inside of me at once. I begin to sweat, especially my face, arms and chest. The hairs on the back of my neck bristle and I feel a little nausea arise. I realize I am also crying a little.

In a few minutes I am covered in shadow again, present and aware, still sweating, waiting for the return of the sun. In sunshine, I roll onto my back. At that moment, I realize what is happening to me. I am purging small painful knots of grief. The heart stone is pulling me fiercely toward it. Sun and stone hold me in place, in safety. I feel relief, a lightness I haven’t known in months. Be happy.

Turtle’s heart stone drained me of some aspects of grief I had been struggling with the last few months. Specifically, Turtle relieved me of the remorse and regret that frequently overwhelmed me. Though mild, my depression lessened significantly after this day. Nature abhors a vacuum. My sorrow was replaced with love, Linda’s love, Turtle’s love, elemental love the springs from simply being, as Spirit just reminded me.

 Incredible 10-mile vista from Turtle effigy! That’s Big Muddy Lake  in the middle distance, most summers a dry white bed of alkali but this wet year filled with blue water.

            I wait for the next shadow then stand a little unsteadily. As I thank Turtle for the generosity and comfort, I look down at the heart stone and, darkening the rocks, is my sweat. As it evaporates in the heat, I feel even lighter, freer, knowing I am leaving behind something I no longer need.

I am leaving something else of me as well. The shape of my body is pressed into the tall grass growing out of and around the heart stone, my delicate effigy carved in grass, humble, unsubstantial.

How did this happen? These experiences are so site-specific that it is usually quite hard to reduce them to words. It is elemental. Earth, air, water are evident elements that exist in our bodies. Fire is somewhat different, more obscure. Often this refers to the fire that burns at 98.6 degrees within us but we are able to burn in other ways. Fire connects us to more evolved parts of ourselves.

One aspect of shamanism is the ability to create, under certain circumstances, inner heat that radiates outward into the world. When combined with specific intent, our inner heat can burn away unwanted or unnecessary parts of us, purging them, healing us. That is what happened at Turtle that hot July afternoon.

Humans have used burning grounds through the millennia as a way of cleansing ourselves. Sometimes Nature purges imperfections from our bodies with high fevers. From my power song and my open awareness, Turtle recognized what I needed to burn away and offered the means for that to happen. All I had to do was be present, aware and open in the burning ground and Spirit moved through me. The experience integrates the three basic elements of my being: physical contact (naked on the heart stone), mental settling (being present and open) and spiritual touching (purging the grief). Such a simple technique. Call it an inner technology.

My role in this, besides grateful, present recipient, is to integrate those three parts into a whole and healthier thing called Reid Dickie. I’m up to the challenge.

MINTON TURTLE EFFIGY VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

MOOSE MOUNTAIN MEDICINE WHEEL, SK

Reid Dickie

October 9, 2010

“The Ancients have spoken today”

            Older than Stonehenge, older than the Pyramids, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel is still used ceremonially today by the Nakota people on whose reservation it sits. My intuition and experience here suggest it may be 8,000 years old, an early post-glacial construction. Spirit dances here daily.

            When Chris and I went looking for it in June, it was elusive. Although I had visited here twice before in the 1990s, I couldn’t figure out where to the access the hill. I left frustrated but determined and called the Pheasant Rump Nakota Nation band office a few weeks later. I spoke with an elder about getting permission and directions to visit the medicine wheel but he said to call another time.

In September, I called back and spoke to elder Beverly who was very accommodating, said to come on by, her house was just below the hill. A month later on a bright Saturday morning, I headed out Highway #2 into Saskatchewan, arriving at Moose Mountain early afternoon. I easily found Beverly’s house. She wasn’t there but a beautiful young woman named Keisha gave me directions up the hill.

Central cairn of Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel

            Two wind- and rain-washed ruts lead through the grass up the steep hill; some of the inclines were 60 degrees. Over rough hills and through rougher gullies, I carefully drive, always rising toward the summit. Wolf willow scrapes against the car’s side panels.  Past the band’s Sundance site on a bench below the hill, one last surge of Avenger muscle up up up and I arrive, a hundred yards from the medicine wheel. As I step from the car, my heart is pounding, my spine tingles slightly and the muscles of my face pull back in a smile, all familiar sensations at these places.

The day is an anomaly. The north wind pushes in a 25-degree  C day in October! The sun roams behind occasional hazy cloud. I spend my entire visit shirtless, enjoying summer’s reprise. I roll between the barbed wire strands and walk toward the medicine wheel, stopping to wait for the welcome, there it is, smile and proceed.

Set atop the highest hill around with an astounding 20-mile view of the foothills, rolling prairie beyond and the flat farmland left behind after glacial Lake Souris, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel has a large central cairn five feet high with a “nest” in the middle of it. A single ring of stones circles the cairn and five stone spokes radiate outward. At the end of each is a smaller cairn.

Astrological alignments of the five satellite cairns around the central mound of Moose MountainMedicine Wheel  from research by John A Eddy Ph.D. National Geographic January 1977

             I rattle, sing my power song and spiral around the outside of the stone circle. Very quickly I feel peace and holiness surround me; every step, every breath, every glance is a miracle almost too beautiful to bear. I spiral in toward the centre where I am summoned to the nest at the core of the cairn. I carefully climb over the rocks to the centre. There, on a bed of rock, open to the heavens and the earth, I ask, with a wavering voice, “What?” Even before the answer comes, I am trembling and tears begin to flow.

            Spirit gave me three clear and real directions at that moment, ponder points. I heard a soft but firm voice tell me I needed to go deeper into this, control my ego and write. While my body is on its knees, a weeping bag of snot, my mind is recording those instructions, already processing, and my spirit is soaring in ecstasy.

All three parts of my being are fully integrated and harmonic at this moment. Each transforms the others. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, The One into the Many, the Many into the One. A state of bliss.

There was a short addendum to the final instruction. I heard another voice tell me, “People believe you.” I was shocked. That had never occurred to me before. Other than fact-checking, I seldom think about my credibility. I just write what happens. It was reassuring to know I am believed, which is, actually, never up to me to decide.

Slowly, carefully I leave the cairn and lie down in the brown grass outside the site. The dry spikes prickle my bare back. Filled with gratitude, I hear Linda’s voice say, “Be happy, baby.” I am. I am.

After half an hour of pure pleasure prone on the hillside, I rise, make one last spiral around the outer ring, rattling and singing my song in gratitude then float back to the car. I drive down a few hundred yards to a flat bench and park to give myself some time to rest and reflect.

As I get out of the car and look up, I see, coming in from the west, a bald eagle spiraling on the updrafts. Near enough to recognize, it slowly floats overhead, re-enforcing the message just given to me at the stones. Eagle is one of my power animals whose unenviable mission it is to try to make me wise. I thank Eagle whose presence reminds me of the huge responsibility I have at sacred sites to take away their wisdom with care and passion, to unpack my experiences with love and kindness.

Beautiful, multi-hued rocks of central cairn, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel

             I have a little digital voice recorder I use to record my important thoughts along the various trails of my life. This sweet gadget later gives me a chance to quote myself. Oh, writer’s bliss! As I was leaving Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel after my experience, in a whispery, reverent voice I said into the little machine, “The Ancients have spoken today. I have the message. Thank you, Ancients. I leave more enlightened than when I arrived. For that my only way to express my gratitude is, ‘I will fulfill, I will fulfill.”

More than anywhere else, Moose Mountain Medicine Wheel spawned this series of reports. I came upon this format while pondering my visit there. For that, I am truly grateful to these old stones and their message.

BIG BEAVER BUFFALO EFFIGY, SK

Reid Dickie

July 19, 2010

 “Twinges of sweetness emerge in me”

            The highest hill around offers 360-degree exposure to the blue dome, a dancing ground overlooking vast rolling prairie dotted with farms nestled in coulees, scant bluffs, patches of hardpan and the crawling shadows of clouds. Half a mile further down the road I came in on, Saskatchewan ends and Montana begins. To the southeast, I can see the Big Beaver border crossing into the U.S. The vista includes a buffalo jump about four miles west. To the northwest is Buffalo Gap where the bison herds passed through to drink at Cow Creek. To the east is the large campsite where nations met for countless generations.

             This place protects the only known buffalo effigy in Canada. Forty-five feet across and twelve feet high, Buffalo is clearly laid out in stones, now half buried in the hard prairie dirt. A spirit pole has coloured cloths blowing from it and there are tobacco offerings on the stones, both signs of recent medicine making. The hilltop is strewn with tipi rings and a larger ceremonial circle to the southeast. Here I can sit on one of my favourite sitting stones and stare off down the distance. Sitting Bull visited this site many times for ceremonies to pray for the return of the buffalo to feed his people.

Spirit pole with cloth offering cloths next to Buffalo Effigy,  facing north and the road I came in on.

          On my way from Turtle effigy (see Day Nine), down a dusty good gravel road south of Big Beaver, SK, through a barbed wire gate, up an incline, over a Texas gate and at the top of the highest hill around waits Buffalo Effigy, peaceful, desolate, quiet. Approaching holiness, I feel tingling in my back and hips and the tight grin. The day remains hot and perfect. I smudge and do sacrament in the car. I will visit this place three times this summer, making about a dozen visits since the mid-1990s.

            I begin singing my power song as I approach Buffalo, circling the stones in a halting dance. I am recognized and welcomed. Penetrated only by the buzz of flies, zizz of wind through grass and, occasionally, the shriek of a red-tail hawk, the cone of silence descends over Buffalo. I am enclosed.

A common experience every time I have visited Buffalo is a great sense of loss and sadness, the haunted echoes of a specie brought to the edge of extinction and the unbidden change that wrought upon the indigenous people. My personal loss makes this encounter more intimate for me now.

  Stone by stone representation of Big Beaver Buffalo Effigy. Liver stone just above left front leg.

         I dance freely sunwise around the effigy, singing my song, being present. My prayerful circles result in an invitation to sit on Buffalo’s liver stone, naked and only in the sunshine. Buffalo’s liver stone is about two feet long and a foot wide, black and mottled with orange lichen.  I pray til the cloud passes, strip and sit on the hot stone, which burns for a couple of minutes. More heat. I sit with my legs pulled up and my arms around my knees, eyes shut.

           I feel the stone rise several feet off the ground and we float there wavering in the breeze for several minutes. Heat pours down on me, the wind blows through me, I am loved, not alone. Filled with peace and purpose I recognize what is happening to me. I am purging more grief, twinges of sweetness emerge in me, be happy.

            After a few more blissful minutes curled on Buffalo’s liver stone, I give gratitude to Spirit for bringing me here today and moving through me once more.

Standing  a little wobbly, I pull on my shorts and slowly walk once around Buffalo. Buffalo’s generosity reinforces the healing from Turtle. I am a lucky lucky man. I am living a dream.

            I retrieve my offering box from my medicine bag and leave some homemade tobacco mixture as an offering on the large stones next to the spirit pole, which stands a few feet away from Buffalo. The cloths wrapping the pole signify past medicine making by others at the site.

       Stock picture of Buffalo clearly shows the outline and the large liver stone in a dry short grass year. Spirit pole is to the right of the effigy.

             I am still amazed at how willing sacred places are to contribute to my spiritual development, to sense what I need and point me there. Today was an excellent example with love and healing from both Turtle and Buffalo coming in full measure. The ability of sites to abide healing on such a personal, intimate level bespeaks their long use by shamans and, in my case, continued use by neo-shamans. Spirit is always eager to pass through us, to heal us when we are in need, ready and open.

            Few sites have demanded physical nakedness from me but both Turtle and Buffalo required it today for their healing and I obliged. Only two other places have told me to be naked: the Spirit Sands on all three night hikes I have done there and the Two Feathers Medicine Wheel on the Saskatchewan/Alberta border west of Leader despite its huge red ant guardians. Unencumbered access to the whole being and the intensity of the healing required dictate the amount of skin needed.

Flat and patterned with orange lichen, one of my favourite sitting stones on the prairies is on a bench just below the Buffalo Effigy. The view of the rolling landscape atop the Missouri Coteau is spectacular. In the draw below the stone is the last Canadian farm. Half a mile further, Montana begins. The bench still has tipi rings.

As I drive down the gravel road away from Buffalo, I pass a van full of people, a tour of local sights offered by the Coronach Tourism Department. Buffalo effigy is a stop on their tour. My timing was perfect but it would have been great to hear the guide say, “And here’s a naked white man floating on a rock.”

BIG BEAVER BUFFALO EFFIGY VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

SPIRIT SANDS, MB

Reid Dickie

 July 18, 2010/October 4, 2010

“Their exotic nonchalance and their nearness”

As you can see, Spirit Sands were an endless source of inspiration for Linda’s keen photographic eye.

         Located in Spruce Wood Provincial Park south of Carberry, MB, Spirit Sands is actually the remains of a huge delta of sand and silt created by a glacial river that drained into Lake Agassiz for millennia. Sometimes called the Carberry Desert, today a few square kilometers of open sand remain, creating constantly shifting dunes, incredible vistas and a divine connection.

July 18, 2010 

Typically, on the first day of a five-day trip into the mystical prairie, I hike the Spirit Sands. So begins this journey. With the first few syllables of my power song, I am welcomed once again at Spirit Sands in Sprucewoods Provincial Park. Another perfect hot summer day so I am stripped to my walking shorts, cap and hiking boots with my trusty walking stick, a gift from Linda, in hand.

The number of times I hiked here alone and with Linda is close to one hundred. This is the piece of the prairie with which I am most familiar and which changes most rapidly due to the movement of the dunes.

The hike begins in the mixed forest of spruce, aspen, old oaks and brush. The first significant and very healthy spruce I encounter is The Sentinel, distinctive against the blue sky as it splits into two trees halfway up. I acknowledge The Sentinel and proceed.  With the wet year, the ground is ablaze with blooms. The juniper berries, used to flavour gin, are already ripening on the creeping junipers that dot the park. The shiny silver wolf willow bushes and the ground-hugging bearberry with its glossy Christmas-green leaves flourish in the porous sand.

Some of the early hills are quite steep which is when the “ten steps, stop and look back” rule kicks in. Knowing my limits is one of the important lessons Spirit Sands has taught me. Acting my age is another way to say it. Looking back on the trail is something few hikers think to do. Where I have just passed looks utterly different from the other side. There is always a new landscape behind me despite how eager I am for the one ahead.

The trail splits after the first rest stop hut. The varnish on the wooden seats of the hut is gnawed and raw. Some critter probably gets high from chewing the varnish off the wood, porcupine maybe. I take the trail to the right that leads to the high wooden observation deck that offers a 10-mile view and, a little further down the trail, my sacred place. Eighty-three wooden steps take me from one level of the desert to the best view so far.

The view from the deck is spectacular. To the west glows blue Marsh Lake with its painted turtles and knotty-faced trees, an oxbow of the Assiniboine River which is wild and high this year with the rains. Past that, Hwy #5 and the rolling overgrown dunes in the river valley. To the north and south, broad green vistas of the valley beyond which gleam vile yellow canola and something an evil green. To the east, the glorious red sands of Spirit Sands. Once covering thousands of acres, the dunes are overgrown now, leaving a few square kilometers of open sand. This view beckons you toward the high dunes, luring you with their exotic nonchalance and their nearness. Around me the air thrills to the acrobatics of hundreds of dragonflies. The Dragonfly Days of Summer have come early this year. There is more of everything this wet year.

Despite the sensual completeness of the view from the deck, it is overarched and humbled by a vast impossible blueness in which clouds slowly explode. The clouds throw down massive shadows that churn across the land, warming and cooling, switching insects on and off, caressing the velvet hills and fine red sand. From the deck, I watch the edges of the shadows arrive and depart for miles in both directions.

Some water, a few cashews and almonds, warrior tai chi and gratitude to Spirit for bringing me here, for even allowing me here, and I am ready to move along. My gratitude is huge for I found my sacred place here, the one place that resonates just for me. It is in the transition zone between the forest and the sands, an area just below the observation deck, sparse in flora, mainly decaying rampikes and harsh mosses but rich in direction and purpose. Shamans appreciate and seek out these in-between places, places of change and opportunity, where the energy is always mixing and moving.

After my first year of hiking here in the mid-1990s and Spirit Sands helping me with my shamanic development, I felt it becoming a sacred place for me, a growing part of my personal mythology.  To that end, I wanted to build a circle of stones in an off-trail place where I could do personal ritual and feel at home. On my next visit, it took me longer than it should have to realize, this is a desert. There are no stones in a desert. I had a backup plan.

I journeyed on this topic several times after that, finally getting the idea I should let the Sands point out a place for my rituals. With that special intent in my mind the next time I visited, I walked the trail solemnly and openly. Past the observation deck, I began to sense something moving with me, muscle energy crossing my path. At a small rise in the trail, I looked left and saw two well-defined animal trails coming into a gully below the trail. They rose up, crossed the trail and converged between two tall spruce trees into another gully a hundred yards away. I followed the trail, looked into the gully between the trees and, a little right of the bottom, there was a circle on the ground! Not a circle of impossible stones but the most possible circle for the site.

Aerial view of Spirit Sands shows how large the open dunes once were and how overgrown it is today

           Eroded up through the sand and glowing from years of gathering moonlight was the circular root system of a long dead creeping juniper, which grows in round shapes in the park. Defined not by an outer edge but by the spokes of the roots, it felt like a perfect inside out circle for me. I asked the local spirits for permission to enter and was welcomed. At the heart of the circle, where the tree had once grown green toward the sun, a rush of energy poured forth toward me. I knelt among the brittle roots and wept in gratitude. I had come home.

The gully where my place sits is about 50 feet deep, the sand somewhat overgrown with mosses, small tufts of grass and a few junipers. The rim is lined with old spruce, most past maturity in their final years until some wild northwesterly blows them down like their prone neighbours. Limp skinny aspens whisper along the south rim, spruce and blue sky fill up the rest. The animal trail diverges as it crosses the bottom of the gully, leaving two separate cuts in the sand that disappear over the rim. I stop here almost every time I visit the park.

On this hot July day in 2010, I doff my cap, shirt, knapsack and stick as I descend into the gully. Pausing to sing my power song, I feel welcomed again and enter the circle from the west as usual. Next to the centre of the circle grows a little pincushion cactus, cautiously pushing its tiny, needle-whiskered greenness out of the sand. Because pincushions produce one or two blooms atop the cactus, a nut forms there and usually just falls off next to the plant, causing clusters of pincushions to form like at the one o’clock position in my sacred circle.

Rattling to the four directions, I sing my power song, pray and dance with the wind. Spirit moves through me and I am entangled in the branches of a long-dead tree, laughing. At the heart of the circle, where the tree once grew, I leave an ovoid opalescent stone Linda gave me to cure for a few days in the sunshine and moonlight over the full moon. The plan is to pick it up in five days on my way home from this journey.

Long view of Spirit Sands transition zone between mixed forest and sand dunes. 

           Leaving my sacred place, I don my cap and smile. How peaceful I feel, how joyous, how mobile as if my personal evolution is speeding up, some invisible change is occurring. It isn’t unpleasant; it feels natural, even and easy. Since my place is off the trail, crossing the brittle land back to the trail means careful slow steps, dodging pincushions, which usually don’t survive being tramped on.

            Shortly I arrive at the long log ladder to the top of the first dune. The day is hotter and muggier. The Sands are usually 5 to 10 degrees hotter than the land below. I start to climb, ten steps, stop, look back. Beside me, the big bluestem grows in tumps up the dune face. This view of Spirit Sands still gives me shivers regardless of how often I see it. The Spirit Sands Effect is restorative, where an easy connection to Spirit occurs that allows me to pass both ways – Agape to Eros, Eros to Agape, The One into the Many, The Many into the One. Chris mentioned he felt this aspect of the desert strongly when we hiked here a month ago.

            I wend my way under a large copse of tall willows to the left of the ladder entrance. Sheltered out of the wind and sun, I do sacrament and rest, breathing the thick air of a muggy day. I am utterly at peace, at home.

Above me is the bench of a large dune that opens onto the largest expanse of sand. I climb to it, take off my hiking boots and socks, fling open my arms to the sky and let the breeze blow through me. When I am ready, I do warrior tai chi at the edge of the bench. From a distance, I look like small mysterious punctuation, an unsettled hieroglyph against the sand.

After hiking here several times, Linda and I discovered a lovely place that became our special spot together on the dunes. Shoeless, I skirt the bottom of the two dunes to the left of the ladder and climb the steep slope of the second last large dune right to the top. Next to a small outcrop of bush, we’d take off our shoes off, dig our toes into the sand and admire the incredible place around us. Situated right at the edge of the dune, it overlooks a spruce and aspen forest, mottled green and dappled with the silver of deadfall. To the right is open prairie, the twin tracks made by the covered wagons that deliver tourists around the Spirit Sands and Punchbowl are prominent. Behind us and away the red sands stretch. This is where Linda’s ashes will be dispersed later this summer along with the remains of our first cat, Teedy. Together they can blow forward and back across the dunes. Eventually my ashes will join them in the eternal dance. What a place to spend eternity!

October 4, 2010

Email to Chris:

            Two intense experiences on the Sands today: I was able to sustain my attention in the causal realm for many minutes, maybe seven or eight. Previously I have only had short peak experiences there. I came out of it feeling light and free having touched the scene of freedom and the source of creativity. Not long after that as I topped a rise, a bald eagle was soaring directly above my head. I looked up and began to spiral with the bird who conveyed a direct and clear message to me: you know everything you need to know about what happened this summer, go home, sit down and write it! It couldn’t have been any clearer. Both these events occurred as I was heading back to the parking lot after spending a couple of hours on the dunes. I did touch that limitlessness as you suggested. My Spirit is full and smiling. I’m living that same dream!

* * *

         What Eagle didn’t make clear was what format to use to write about my summer and the distance it went. I chose this familiar form, sharing it with friends and family, people who will understand and people who won’t. Eagle was right. I did know everything I needed to write this. Thank you for reading it. I appreciate and respect any comments you may have.

One year ago today Linda transformed from this world into the next. This hardly seems possible, but as this series indicates, I have become accustomed to embracing new realities over the past two decades of my life. This year I faced a complete change of lifestyle, nothing is as it was or ever had been for me. My innate creativity has helped me conceive of and create a new reality, new lifestyle for myself. This would not have been successful, or even possible without the generous assistance of my family and friends. From gentle touches and taunt hugs, from truthful hugs and knowing smiles to just holding me, I have been loved and understood by so many. I thank you for your part in my healing. You made a difference.

SPIRIT SANDS VIDEO REPORT

Reid Dickie

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