The Grief Stone

grief stone

When I was going through some very bad times at the turn of the century, I was reading way too much about depression and madness (Health Tip: that doesn’t help) and I came across a brief reference to a Native American belief in the use of “grief stones.”

I didn’t do any deep research into it but decided to give it a try. The idea was that you selected a small stone into which you would rub your grief.  Focus on the negativity, problem or grief and rub it into the stone. The stone I chose was smooth river rock and I used my thumb to rub. When you feel that you have transferred those feelings into the stone, you bury the stone in the ground where the bad energy will slowly dissipate.

I know how “new age” that sounds. Did I believe it? I guess I was willing to believe it at that point. After a week, I felt better and I dug up the stone. Maybe I was supposed to find a new stone, but I was comfortable with this one.

Perhaps, my improvement had nothing to do with the stone. Science would say that it had nothing to do with it. But I carried the stone with me and rubbed it when things were bad. I buried it again and waited for things to seem better. That took a few weeks. I dug it up again and kept it in my car.

I began a practice of leaving work and rubbing into the stone anything bad that had happened during the day. I did that for two years before I felt that I had packed as much into that stone as it could hold. I had actually worn away a very comfortable groove in that stone with my thumb which I found pretty remarkable. 

I buried the stone a few times again in the woods nearby because I didn’t want the grief dissipating too near home. I left it there for a season, dug it up, and put it back in the car. It is still there, but I rarely use it. It’s more of a reminder of what had happened to me back then.

This past week I did some searching online for grief stones. I didn’t find much more than I had found back in 2001. There were sites selling grief stones, which bothered me for some reason. I found stones called “Apache Tears” that are said to be good for “transmuting one’s own negativity under stressful situations.” It is a dark black stone of obsidian and when held up to the light appears somewhat transparent. I read that some people claim that when the grief one feels goes into the stone, it turns opaque.

I claim no special powers for my stone. I don’t even know what kind of stone it is. What I believe happened is that the practice of rubbing the stone and thinking about the grief, worry, sorrow, pain, anger, or whatever it was at that moment that was bothering me was what had some effect. Recognize it, process it, and try to dismiss it. More psychology than sorcery.

I did find a reference to the grief stone on a site about art therapy. In this practice, you create a stone to represent the pain, memory, and emotion and bury it. I also found the recommendation to cleanse the bad energy in a stone by burying it in a crystal bowl of sea salt or placing it in a stream or into the ocean.

But I don’t think you need a special stone or a special cleansing. A stone that feels comfortable in the hand and the burying is as much ritual as you need.

Do I still use the stone? No, things are pretty good right now. Do I think the stone still holds some of the negativity? No. Did it ever? I know I held some negativity and it went away. Coincidence?

I still have the stone in the car. I hope I won’t need it again, but it’s there. The ground around where I buried it is green and growing. My grief didn’t kill everything nearby.

Everyone has days when you need to stop for just a bit, focus on what is causing negativity, and try to rub it into some other place outside of you and those you love. It might take a long time to rub out all that grief. It might take many more days for the grief to be neutralized.

Hozro and Hiraeth

“Everything is connected. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him.”
Tony Hillerman, The Ghostway

balanced stones
Image by daschorsch

I came upon two new words recently that come from very different places and cultures, but both resonated with my state of mind this past week.

Hozro is the Navajo word meaning to be in harmony with one’s environment, at peace with one’s circumstances, and free from anger or anxieties. If that isn’t enough, it means you are walking in harmony, content with the beauty all around him.”

It is about balance; about personal and communal beauty that adds its voice to the whole blended ensemble of creation.

Hozho is about real-world harmony and balance in the trenches of life, not the weekend retreat, ”don’t-worry-be-happy varieties.” In the novel Sacred Clowns, Jim Chee, a Navajo detective, is the way author Tony Hillerman explores what it is like to be born among the Dine’ and live on the reservation through novels of mystery. Chee explains hozho in this way:

“This business of hozho… I’ll use an example. Terrible drought, crops dead, sheep dying. Spring dried out. No water. The Hopi, or the Christian, maybe the Moslem, they pray for rain. The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought. You see what I mean? The system is designed to recognize what’s beyond human power to change, and then to change the human’s attitude to be content with the inevitable.”

In hozho, harmony and balance are real and it is a realistic goal in life. You don’t find this harmony outside or in things. You find in your own heart and mind.

Not everyone I know could accept this philosophy. Some people I know want to change the world. That is not the wrong thing to do. There are things that need changing and some of them you yourself can change or at least help change. You could view hozho as acceptance. “I can’t change the climate so I just accept it.”

Adjusting ourselves to reality is an easier and certainly less stressful way to live. It seems to me that this philosophy is more about the things we can’t change. Unhappy about how the weather has “ruined your plans” this weekend? You can’t change it, so adjust yourself.

There is also a belief in certain inevitabilities in hozho. Certain things are going to happen – aging and death amongst the big ones – and fighting to change these things is harmful. I don’t think it means to ignore your health and habits and “come what may” but to battle aging every day makes what life you have left less enjoyable.

nostalgia photos
Image by Michal Jarmoluk

On the other side of the world, I found hiraeth, a Welsh word that has no direct English translation. I found it defined as a combination of homesickness, grief, and sadness over the lost or departed. The closest synonyms in English seem to be “longing, yearning, nostalgia, or wistfulness.” For the Welsh, it seems to be those feelings about the Wales of the past, but the concept is not uniquely Welsh.

The etymology is that it is derived from hir and aeth and literally means “long gone.” The word appears in the earliest Welsh records, including early Welsh poetry. This is not a new feeling.

The word came into the English language in the 19th century. Historically, from 1870 to 1914, approximately 40% of Welsh emigrants returned to Wales. Was it hiraeth?

These two words and their larger meanings don’t seem similar to me. In fact, I see them as opposites in a way. That longing for things long gone in hiraeth is a yearning for things that can never return, such as a lost loved one, or the world, real and imagined, of your childhood. Those kinds of feelings certainly would not enhance any harmony or balance in your life. It means an unacceptance of some inevitabilities.

Everything is connected. The past is settled. You have the present to live in. The future is not completely undetermined but you have the ability to change some of it. If you believe in an afterlife, you are determining what it will be today.

 

There Are Many Autumns

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

Four Seasons - Longbridge Road

The equinox is on Monday, September 23 this year. In Paradelle, it will be at 3:50 AM. Autumnal equinox is one of two moments in the year when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length. For the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox falls about September 22 or 23, and in the Southern Hemisphere the autumnal equinox occurs on March 20 or 21.

Following the astronomical definition of the seasons, the autumnal equinox also marks the beginning of autumn, which lasts until the winter solstice.

seasons diagram

A friend, knowing that I write here about the Full Moons, equinoxes, solstice and seasons, asked me if Native American tribes had names for the seasons as they did for the Full Moons. I had to admit that I did not know. And so I did some research.

Native and indigenous people in all ancient cultures around the planet were keen observers of the changes in the natural world around them and in the movement of the Sun, stars, and Moon.  Without telescopes and mathematical calculations (and in many cases without a written calendar as we know them), they still tracked the passage of seasons.

The Abenaki are a Native American tribe and First Nation. They are one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples of northeastern North America. The Abenaki originate in Quebec and the Maritimes of Canada and in the New England region of the United States. In their calendar, autumn is called tagwogo.

The Powhatan refers to any of the Indigenous Algonquian people that are traditionally from eastern Virginia. It is estimated that there were about 14,000–21,000 Powhatan people in eastern Virginia, when the English colonized Jamestown in 1607.  For the Powhatans there were five seasons. Early and mid-spring (cattapeuk); late in the spring until mid-summer (cohattayough); late summer (nepinough) was harvest time, and the autumn and early winter is called taquitock which was a time for feasts, religious rituals and time for communal hunts. The late winter and early spring is known as popanow.

The Cochimi had 6 seasons that pair with two of our months. Late summer is amadeapee which is approximately our September and October.

The Cree divided the year into 8 seasons. Late summer is megwan; early fall is tekwagun; late fall is migiskau.

Moon When Deer Paw the Ground

dee
white-tailed deer – USDA photo by Scott Bauer

The media made a big deal yesterday about the coincidence of a Harvest Full Moon occurring on a Friday the 13th. But the Moon didn’t reach fullness in Paradelle until after midnight, so that wasn’t exactly true for me. And anyway, the 13 part is just a coincidence of calendars and nothing celestial.

The name of this month’s Full Moon as the Moon When Deer Paw the Ground comes to us from the Omaha people.  The Omaha people are a federally recognized Midwestern Native American tribe who reside on the Omaha Reservation in northeastern Nebraska and western Iowa, United States. The Omaha people migrated to the upper Missouri area and the Plains by the late 17th century from earlier locations in the Ohio River Valley.

Why do deer paw the ground at this time? This is one of those nature signs that Native Americans (and today deer hunters) would notice. It concerns scrapes which is a sign that is important in tracking deer during the rut. Scrapes are made when bucks paw the ground at the foot of a tree, creating a bare patch of earth on the ground, and then urinating on it to leave a sign of their presence. In this way, a buck can attract does during the rut. The buck urinates down his rear legs and onto his tarsal glands, which create a stronger and more pungent odor.

The rut (from the Latin rugire, meaning “to roar”) is the mating season of certain mammals, including deer, sheep, goats, and bison. This is when males have an increase in testosterone, increased aggression and interest in females. In most species, males mark themselves or their habitat with mud, secretions from glands or their urine.

Some of the many names given to this September Full Moon include: Nut Moon, Mulberry Moon, Singing Moon, Barley Moon, Elk Call Moon, Fruit Moon, Corn Moon, Wine Moon, Gypsy Moon, Moon of Leaves Turning Color, Moon of Spiderwebs on the Ground, Big Feast Moon, Haligmonath (Holy Month), and  Witumanoth (Wood Month).

September sometimes is the month of the Harvest Moon but in some years that is in October. That is because that name is given to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox.  The equinox is on September 23 this year and the October Full Moon is on the 13th, so today’s Full Moon is the Harvest Moon for 2019.

For any readers in the Southern Hemisphere, this September Full Moon might be called by our Northern spring names, such as Worm Moon, Crow Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, or Sap Moon.

The Bone Moon of February

On February 19, 2019 at 10:53 am ET, we will see the February Full Moon. Often called the Snow Moon, that name for this Full Moon might not make much sense if you are in a climate where snow is rare or non-existent.

I have written about most of the Full Moon names below (click links for earlier posts). The Wolf Moon may be one English name for this month, but in the U.S. the January Full Moon is the one sometimes called the Wolf Moon.

American Indian tribes have the most variety in naming the Full Moons which were a very important way of marking the passage of time.

Transposing the Cherokee names for our Julian calendar months, our February would be Kagaʔli or Gŭgăli, the Bone Moon or the “month when the stars and moon are fixed in the heavens.” I couldn’t find the exact reason for the “bone” symbolism. Maybe the bare bones of a difficult time of year when it came to food? There might be little food and you might even gnaw on bones and eat bone marrow soup. This was the traditional time for families to mark those who had departed this world with a family meal with places set for the departed. Maybe it is the bones of the departed?

Other tribes called this Full Moon the “Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire Moon” (Wishram Native Americans), the “No Snow in the Trails Moon” (Zuni Native Americans).

In colder climes, Snow, Storm, Winter and Ice Moon were names that were used by Colonists.

Month Colonial America Cherokee Choctaw Celtic Medieval England Neo-Pagan Wiccan Algonquian English
February Trapper’s Moon Bony/Bone Moon Little Famine Moon Moon of Ice Storm Moon Snow Moon Storm Moon Snow Moon Wolf Moon

There is snow and ice in Paradelle at this time, but thankfully there is no famine or gnawing at bones or wolves waiting for me outside.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

December 28, 1890 – 128 years ago – was the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

It happened despite a treaty signed two decades before in which the United States government guaranteed local tribes rights to their sacred land around the Black Hills.

But in the 1870s, gold was discovered in the Black Hills, and the treaty was broken.

I was assigned to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a college history course and the book revealed to me my ignorance of American Indian history. And what a sad and terrible history it is.

Part of today’s Writers Almanac gives a short summary of why the event occurred after the tribes were forced off their sacred land and placed on reservations.

People from the Sioux tribe were forced onto a reservation, with a promise of more food and supplies, which never came. Then in 1889, a native prophet named Wovoka, from the Paiute tribe in Nevada, had a vision of a ceremony that would renew the earth, return the buffalo, and cause the white men to leave and return the land that belonged to the Indians. This ceremony was called the Ghost Dance. People traveled across the plains to hear Wovoka speak, including emissaries from the Sioux tribe, and they brought back his teachings. The Ghost Dance, performed in special brightly colored shirts, spread through the villages on the Sioux reservation, and it scared the white Indian agents. They considered the ceremony a battle cry, dangerous and antagonistic. So one of them wired Washington to say that he was afraid and wanted to arrest the leaders, and he was given permission to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, who was killed in the attempt. The next on the wanted list was Sitting Bull’s half-brother, Chief Big Foot. Some members of Sitting Bull’s tribe made their way to Big Foot, and when he found out what had happened, he decided to lead them along with the rest of his people to Pine Ridge Reservation for protection. But it was winter, 40 degrees below zero, and he contracted pneumonia on the way.

Big Foot was sick, he was flying a white flag, and he was a peaceful man. He was one of the leaders who had actually renounced the Ghost Dance. But the Army didn’t make distinctions. They intercepted Big Foot’s band and ordered them into the camp on the banks of the Wounded Knee Creek. Big Foot went peacefully.

The next morning federal soldiers began confiscating their weapons, and a scuffle broke out between a soldier and an Indian. The federal soldiers opened fire, killing almost 300 men, women, and children, including Big Foot. Even though it wasn’t really a battle, the massacre at Wounded Knee is considered the end of the Indian Wars, a blanket term to refer to the fighting between the Native Americans and the federal government, which had lasted 350 years.

I wrote earlier about one of the people wounded but not killed during the massacre – the famous medicine man, Black Elk, and his book Black Elk Speaks. This was another book I read in college after finishing my assigned reading. Both books were revelatory both in the history and my own spirituality and in forming a philosophy for my own life’s path.

Black Elk said about the massacre:

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.”