The Sundance: A Story of Crucifixion, Part I
Writing that last blog, “Modern Day Crucifixion,” brought up a powerful memory. Twenty some years ago a good friend invited me to go with her to a Lakota Sundance. I hesitated. The Sundance lasted four days and I felt I couldn’t take the time off work. Fortunately, my Soul refused to believe that going to a Sundance was the equivalent of playing hooky. I went.
The Sundance was held out in the middle of what felt like nowhere. It was doubtful that anyone could accidentally happen by. The dance was not a spectacle; there were no entrance fees, no concession stands. What was offered was the honor of bearing witness. The dancers, men and women, were dressed in native costumes, but it was beyond imagination that they were able to endure the heat with all that clothing on, let alone dance for hours in temperatures reaching over 100 degrees.
But they did. It was the real thing.
What I witnessed was outside anything in my known world. I am a writer but words will fail me here. Rhythmic and repetitive, the wailing voices and the heartbeat of the drum and the moccasined feet all serenading Mother Earth — they became one, lifting us higher and higher with each round, carrying us back to a Soul time where we were connected as a way of being, as a way of breathing.
I knew the male dancers pierced as part of the Sundance but I could never have been prepared for what I saw, what I felt. Suddenly a man appeared with an eagle feather in each hand. He soared around the circle alone and I went with him on the wings of drums and eagle bone whistles calling through the wind, taking me high above myself and the human fray below.
I had had several déjà vu experiences about Native Americans even before I knew what a déjà vu was. I grew up in suburban New Jersey and had never left the East Coast. But watching cowboy and Indian movies as a child, I felt myself right there under a hot desert sun. The sight of a paint horse and feathers hanging from long black hair called up memories I could not remember. When the man with the eagle feathers began his dance and the eagle bone whistles blew, I was there again. A profound and instantaneous wave of recognition; body and Soul told me I had once danced that very dance… Another memory I could not remember.
I know you. But you don’t know me. The white woman sitting at the edge of your circle is your sister and your brother, but I don’t know how to tell you. I find myself looking into a Sundancer’s face, not fully aware I am hoping he will recognize me inside my white costume.
The eagle dance was danced before each man pierced. Most of the men pierced their chests. Long straps were attached from their piercings to the tree in the center of the circle and they danced and pulled until their skin broke free. I was prepared for that. I was told that by the time the skin broke, the dancer was in an ecstatic state and felt no pain, but what about the piercing itself? And I was told they did this not for themselves but for the Earth and all humanity, that the Sundance was a prayer, an offering, a conscious and deliberate conversion of pain into Love.
The eagle dancer himself did not pierce on his chest but on his back. A long chain of seven enormous buffalo skulls was brought into the circle and attached to his piercings. And as the drums pounded out from the center of the Earth itself and the singing echoed off the parched inferno of a sky, he dragged the Buffalo skulls around the circle until his skin and his spirit broke free.
As if I were a witness at the Crucifixion
This was a sacrifice of self, given as a prayer for humanity. AND, it was communally understood, communally revered and communally enacted for the sake of the world. No belief system I was familiar with embodied this conscious commitment to embracing and transforming pain for the sake of a higher common good.
As if I were a witness at the Crucifixion…