What do I mean by “mysticism”? … hmmmm … now you went and complicated matters! 🙂 I’m not sure I can faithfully articulate what I mean … maybe by example …
Several years back, I was treated to one of my life’s most memorable experiences … We were spending some time on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with our friends Selo Black Crow & Jake Little Thunder … incidently, at that time, back in 1987, we met one of Selo’s nephew’s buddies … a then 12 -14 year old (or so) named Nathan Chases His Horse. Just an innocent schoolboy. You saw him in “Dances With Wolves” as the boy who was nearly gutted by the buffalo. Off the track again …
So, one day, Selo takes me for a ride, just me & him. Selo, then, was about 50 … a spiritual leader of the Ogalala Lakotas. And, a REAL nice guy. He had some very interesting perspectives on Russell Means, before Chingachgook, but that’s for another time. Anyway, we ride over hill after hill on some little back road for miles & miles. We come, finally, to a cedar covered circular arbor. We are waved to the side. My car is checked. No tape recorders allowed, no cameras allowed … maybe no me … Selo says something in Lakota … they let me into the parking area. Selo enters the arbor. I am stopped and must sit outside the ring.
Eagle bone whistles, the beat of the drum, the smell of meat roasting in the air, native costumes … real native costumes, not like you see at the average, commercial Pow-Wow … three men are strapped, by leather thongs, to a center pole. Having pierced their skin with an eagle talon, they will dance … as long as it takes to break free. Blood drips down their arms. They do this for the rebirth of their people. I am, of course, at a Sun Dance … the once OUTLAWED ritual that brought the scattered bands together as one each summer. I look around. It is easy to imagine I am back in some 1850’s remote village. I am the ONLY non-Indian present. I felt sure that if not for Selo, I WOULDN’T be there. A couple of fellas, the same two who stopped me from entering the arbor sit down next to me and we chat. They explain that they meant no harm, that it is a sacred rite. I think I understood. The whole thing was awe-inspiring. The mere fact that these people were practicing their religion here, in the hills, as they had been doing for centuries … not for show, but for themselves. It truly moved me. I felt like I was witnessing history. There was a “mysticism” here, I could feel it, but I couldn’t FULLY understand it. It wasn’t me.
One reason Selo took me under his wing was this … he was used to folks coming through the reservation, asking for sweats and spiritual advice, then moving on. When I first met him, he thought that’s why I was there … to take & to leave. Of course, he didn’t SAY that to me. He did offer me a sweat. I politely declined. He asked why. I said that I respected his ways, but that to partake in them, without fully understanding & believing, would be making a mockery of his sacred beliefs. It wasn’t me. From that point on, we were close.
The “mysticism” in “Geronimo” was along those lines, I felt … of the college student breezing through the rez, taking a sweat, and running off feeling “Indian”. I’m not comfortable with that. Mysticism, I should note, is not confined to Native religions. Nearly all religions, the essence of spirituality, have an element of mysticism.
Aren’t you glad you asked? Anybody have a cork?