Alternate Perceptions Magazine, April 2020
by: Tanya Touchstone
It began at the Fall Pow Wow. I started a conversation with two Native people and an immediate bond was formed. The friendships grew and, over time, more and more Native people came into my life. I not only made new friends, but I was also exposed to the Cherokee and Lakota cultures in ways most white people never experience. Native weddings, sweat lodges, socials, spirituality, music, and what they call medicine (teachings, such as animal medicine and nature medicine).
One such ceremony happened a few years ago, when I was invited to attend a Lakota Lowampi ceremony, which is an ancient ceremony to call in Spirit. Few get to experience a ceremony like this, and I wasn't going to miss it.
We gathered together, about 50 of us, at a local farm in Tennessee. A sweat lodge sat on this farm land for a long time, and it was where the Lowampi ceremony would take place.
Lowampi literally means “Lakota Indian Medicine,” or “healing sing,” a ceremony during which Spirit instructs the healer about the remedies that would heal the sick person. The ceremony is performed with the support of the sick person's extended family. Several people with illnesses had come for prayers to the Lodge, and this ceremony was to be a part of that.
When guests arrived, everyone was greeted as family. A sweat lodge ensued to cleanse and purify. Then, at about 10 pm, or maybe even a little later, in the middle of the woods, everyone gathered in the covered area where the community meals were typically shared. All openings were sealed shut and there were kerosene lanterns hanging in various areas. I can tell you that it gets very dark out in the middle of the woods.
The people gathered in a circle around a blanket with various objects arranged around it. At each corner of the blanket were rods with forks and colorful cloth hanging from them, representing the four directions. Next, the men placed their drums around the blanket. The Lakota teacher then explained what would take place and the prayers we would offer.
The lanterns were blown out and it was completely dark. You could see nothing. Soon, drumming and rattles could be heard accompanying the singing of the Lakota elder, the facilitator.
Throughout the ceremony flashes of light or orbs appeared and then disappeared just as quickly. The mind tried to understand where this was coming from, but rest assured there were no special effects out in the middle of the woods in the crude, familiar room we had been in together many times. Nothing was out of place. I found myself wondering if other people were experiencing the droplets of water coming from nowhere and the flashes of light.
Then, it happened. I saw a light, and so bright it was, I had to hide my eyes. My mind tried to comprehend this as it was pitch black. The light was coming from behind my shoulders, and I wondered at this because there were other participants sitting directly behind me. I took my hands from my eyes and held them in front of me, still trying to comprehend this immense light. I couldn't see my hands in front of me, but I still had to cover my eyes because it was so bright.
When the ceremony concluded, the lanterns were relit and people started asking each other about their experiences. It seems that several of us had the experience with the bright light, and it was still confounding my reasoning.
My surgery is Tuesday morning. I've been thinking about that Lowampi ceremony all week. And I've especially been remembering it since I wrote the post previous to this one. I've even awakened this week several times, realizing that I was dreaming about the ceremony and hearing the drums and the singing. It felt as if I were there again.
I believe that what I experienced that night was God, the Light in the darkness, and everyone else who experienced it felt the same way.
To me, this is the Great Spirit, Wankan Tankan, or Creator, whatever name you choose to call God, reassuring me, reminding me that there is indeed a Light in the darkness and that it is bigger than me or my reasoning.
When Creator moves, reasoning and the five senses do not apply.
When we are born, we come out of the darkness, into the Light, into life.
So it is.
Pilamaya ye, Wankan Tankan (Lakota for: Thank you, God.)
Wopila! (Lakota for: Many thanks!)
Editor’s Note: This amazing account comes from Tanya’s book “The Gifts of Cancer: A Meditation on Hope.” Used with permission.