On the Saturday after the summer solstice, on the Wright land in Malibu, two men, elders in the community, stand at the East gate of the Medicine Wheel. Their voices lead us in a simple song and the sound of their drums resounds over the mountains. During the song participants approach a pot of water and pour a ladleful onto the Wheel with a prayer that with the water, they are pouring out their burdens of pain, grief, and fear.
There are four pots of water, one at each cardinal direction. Approximately one hundred people are at the gathering this year, so fifteen minutes or more pass before everyone has had a chance to make an offering. Throughout this final portion of the ceremony, the community continues to sing, and the elders, their energy steady and strong, continue to drum.
I am standing at the West gate, facing the elders. I love seeing them and holding space with them. We gather on the Wheel only four times a year: at the solstices and equinoxes. With each gathering the elders are older. Miguel often reminds us that he will not always be here. Like the Earth, the wheel of time also turns. If we care about these ways and wish to pass them on, we must learn them.
Twice during the ceremony I hear talking behind me. Not a word or two of quiet remarks, but full conversations. After grappling with it for a moment, I stop singing, turn around and remind the women behind me that we are in ceremony, people are releasing grief and pain, and those who’ve poured are holding the space. I end with, “We need you.”
One woman looks at me with an expression which I translate as, “And who are you?”
I take a breath and turn back to the Wheel. When the last person has poured, the drumming and voices stop. The number of participants remaining at the Wheel has dwindled to a third of what it was when we began, and the profound silence usually following sacred song is missing. Instead, Miguel’s closing words are accompanied by a soundtrack of chatter from the deck below, from those who’d left the ceremony early for the potluck. I am angry. People! I think. This is not television!
I feel grave concern. If this is how folks act at a sacred gathering, what do they do when they leave the mountain? And, what about those who don’t come at all? I think of Miguel reminding us that seven generations ago, people stood here and prayed for us, and that it is our turn to reach back and pray for them and to reach forward for those to come. He defines a generation as one hundred years.
I join the group on the deck, share a plate of food with a newcomer, then go to my car and take out my frame drum, an instrument for which I have little skill but great love. I walk back up the hill to the Wheel. A thick mist covers the Land, bringing a welcome chill and obscuring the usually clear view of the ocean and Malibu below.
With slow steps I walk clockwise around the Wheel, circling it with a heartbeat, a song, a prayer. First, tender and grateful, then building in intensity and volume, releasing sound waves of ferocity into the fog. I allow my desire to protect this Land and these ways, along with my action of prayer, song, and movement, to transform my anger into forgiveness, strength and resolve. A few people approach and witness for a moment. No one speaks. They leave; I finish and then place my drum on the ground, leaning it against a bush.
I am filled with a sense of love I associate with my children or a soulmate: a mixture of tenderness, safety and wholeness. It is the Land. She is calling to my soul, reminding me that I am where I belong, doing what I came to do, and that we will always be one. I feel her welcome and embrace that I know will remain always.
I look at the Wheel. The pots of water are still there. I pick one up and pour its remaining water into a cluster of White Sage by the West gate, then another into shrubbery by the East, following suit until all of the pots are empty and stacked at the North gate. I then tuck my drum under one arm, carry the empty pots down to the deck and put them away.
In the same way that I belong to my children and they to me, the Land belongs to me and I to Her, because we love and care for each other. Different than ownership, this is law beyond entitlement and paperwork. Honoring this law and feeling a call to care is a luxury, a medicine and a gift: luxury, because I live in a disconnected culture which does not require that I care for the Land to receive my food; medicine, because love of Land heals meaninglessness, loneliness, and long nights of disconnection and imagined separation from self and God; and a gift, because it cannot be forced—it is a Grace. Once the awareness is here, its beauty is profound and undeniable.
While I felt pain and anger, I have no judgment on those who walked away from the ceremony. The problem is systemic. Sometimes the solution is individual, and simple. I trust that we can all find it ourselves, under the stars, in the dirt, at the ocean, in a song.
Who am I? I am one of many who listens, prays and cleans up a few pots and, in so doing, receives the miracle of coming home.
Sage Knight is a planetary local. She can be reached via www.SageKnight.com and would love to connect with you.