12 SACRED PLACES
MINTON TURTLE EFFIGY
July 19, 2010
“Stoned in the original sense of the word”
“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”
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.
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.
July 13, 2010
Neubergthal is one of the best preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America. Located southeast of Altona, the tiny spot is part of the West Reserve set aside for Mennonites when they immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s.
The outstanding features of Neubergthal are the eight intact housebarns aligned along the street, actually Provincial Road 421. The traditional building style shows characteristic Mennonite architecture with house and barn connected. In the 1990s, local people organized to save the buildings, many of them unique in Canada. Today a fully restored housebarn interpretive centre complete with a functioning Russian bake heater offer visitors a glimpse into a bygone era and lifestyle.