Native Healer: Initiation into an Ancient Art

Native Healer: Initiation into an Ancient Art

by Medicine Grizzlybear (Robert G) Lake, Bobby Lake-Thom

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An exciting glimpse into the world of Native American shamanism. Many today claim to be healers and spiritual teachers, but Medicine Grizzlybear Lake definitely is both. In this work he explains how a person is called by higher powers to be a medicine man or woman and describes the trials and tests of a candidate. Lake gives a colorful picture of Native American


An exciting glimpse into the world of Native American shamanism. Many today claim to be healers and spiritual teachers, but Medicine Grizzlybear Lake definitely is both. In this work he explains how a person is called by higher powers to be a medicine man or woman and describes the trials and tests of a candidate. Lake gives a colorful picture of Native American shamanism and discusses ceremonies such as the vision quest and sweat lodge.

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Native Healer

Initiation Into an Ancient Art

By Medicine Grizzlybear Lake

Theosophical Publishing House

Copyright © 1991 Medicine Grizzlybear Lake
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8356-0667-7


Becoming a Native Healer

You don't just wake up one morning and say, "Gee, I would like to be a medicine man." It doesn't work that way. There is something different about a person who is meant to be a Native healer. You are born with a special kind of power, gift, talent, and knowledge. It is not your power; it belongs to the Great Creator and the people. It is only loaned to you. And it must be handled in the right and proper way or someone could get hurt.

I have never stood up in front of a group of people and said, "I am a medicine man." I rarely talk about it. If the people are meant to know, they will know. But there have been times, when someone pushed it far enough, that I would say, "Yes, I am a servant of the Great Creator. I am a traditional Native healer, spiritual teacher, and ceremonial leader." It is said that way because of humbleness, not out of shame, not out of boasting, but due to reality. I say it that way because that is what the Great Creator, the spirits, and my elderly mentors have told me I am. If the people want to call me a medicine man, I am honored. But a real medicine man should not have to identify himself as such. It is not the Indian way.

I don't fit most people's stereotype of what a Native healer should be. I am not a wise old man living in a remote part of the reservation in poverty, waiting to be discovered by an anthropologist or writer or some kind of psychic researcher. I am not a full-blooded Indian. I am not tall and dark skinned with a big nose. In fact, I don't even fit the description of my name, Medicine Grizzlybear. My friend Archie Fire Lamedeer should probably have that name because he is about 6 feet, 3 inches tall, weighs 240 pounds, and is big like a grizzly. He even has the silver streaks and dark coloring. We laugh about it because we "know" that each medicine man or woman has a special name that the Great Creator gives him or her. Sometimes that name is kept secret. I kept my name secret for over a decade. Archie Lamedeer has a secret name. Martin High Bear, another friend who is also a well-known medicine man, has a special name—Rocky Boy. He has this name because he works with the power and spirit of the rock people. Such names have power. They really mean something because they are your password, as a Native healer, to the Great Creator, the spirits, and the Mother Earth. And with the name comes responsibility.

So I didn't just wake up one morning and decide to pick a name that would make me more Indian. I earned it by fasting, sweating, and through a ten-day vision quest on a sacred mountain top. I didn't pick my name; I didn't pick the powers that go with the name; and I didn't really pick this profession. It was given to me in an honorable and clean way. I didn't want to be a Native healer—I was chosen for it. Four different times in my life I went to elderly medicine people in the Indian way and asked them to take it out of me. I gave them a lot of money, gifts, and even offered hard labor to have the power taken away. I didn't want the responsibility, hardship, sacrifice, and strict life that went with it. Two of these Elders refused. One tried to do what I asked and died exactly a year later. The fourth one, Rolling Thunder, really scolded me. He said: "This is not your choosing. You don't have the right or authority to interfere with what the Great Spirit has decided. You were chosen to be a medicine man long before you came into this body on this Earth. You have a duty and responsibility to follow the calling. If not, you will hurt your family, your people, and the spiritual function and design of the Universe. Sure, it's a tough life. Your own Indian people will make fun of you, they will talk bad about you, they will probably even call you a phony or something. But the Great Creator knows, the Mother Earth knows, your relations in Nature know, the numerous people from all walks of life you will heal, help, and teach will know; and you will know. That is all that really matters. And when things get tough in your life, you'll just have to grin and bear it. That is one of the ways for a true medicine man. You take on the suffering, the fear, the hate, the anger, the pain, the confusion, and the sickness of the people. That is why you are different. And you can't run and hide from it. You were put here on the Earth to do a job for the Great Creator. Like it or not, you've got to be strong and just do it."

In the olden days, the elderly people usually knew ahead of time when a Native healer was coming to the tribe. They would know through dreams, signs, omens, and ceremony. Sometimes they would know before the child was born; at other times they would find out at its birth. Sometimes, however, they didn't find out until the child was growing up. It all depended on the tribal custom, belief, ways, and degree of spiritual evolvement. Nowadays very few people know about these things. The Native tribes that are more traditional in their life-style will have a way of knowing, but the more assimilated tribes and Christian indoctrinated tribal societies don't even care. For some of these tribes the role and function of a medicine person has become extinct, a thing of the past.

One of my elderly mentors was from the Iroquois Six Nations. I stem from the Iroquois Six Nations Natives, but I was mainly taught and trained by the Yurok and Karuk in northwestern California. This mentor told me he knew about me when I was still a child. He said he dreamt about me, that a bear came and told him. Although I met this Native healer when I was younger, I didn't really get to study and train under him until I was in my late twenties. His name was Beeman Logan, a hereditary Seneca chief and medicine man. Another great chief said he knew I would come to him some day. He said he hoped I would come before he got old and died. His name was Chief Harry Watt. He died two years after I finally got to see him, and he helped put me up on Seneca mountain. I had to go 3000 miles back home, from California to New York, to do that. It was like a salmon going back home to its original birthplace to spawn and die. Chief Harry Watt said he knew that a young man in his tribe would inherit the medicine power and return to his people; but he said also he felt sad that the people would not be ready for this person. He was right.

Evidently, the day I was born something strange happened. Thunder and lightning cracked all over the Six Nations mountains and Seneca territory; some said it was a freak hail storm with hailstones the size of baseballs. This also happened each time I died. Four times so far in my life I have been pronounced dead. Two other times I know I died, but no one except my wife was around to verify it. Of course I was only dead a short time, but being dead is dead, whether temporary or permanent. I know that when I get old and finally die that there will be a bad storm, much worse than the others, because I have already seen it in a vision. More than likely, though, the people won't even notice it; they won't understand what such events mean.

The path to becoming a Native healer is full of trials and tribulations, suffering and sacrifice. It encompasses all facets of life and of human nature. It involves the physical and spiritual, the mental and emotional. Along this path are certain stages.

The way I understand it, these include: 1) inheritance—you are born with the potentiality genetically; 2) the calling, which usually comes in the form of a dream or a series of dreams; 3) the initiation, which occurs via an illness, disease, accident, injury, sometimes a severe mental or emotional problem, or a profound psychic or mystical experience, or a death experience; 4) the vision quest and spiritual training when one is guided to a specific power center in Nature to acquire and activate power; 5) the evaluation and confirmation by the elders, and the apprenticeship; 6) the actual practice of being a Native healer, which in itself is a never-ending learning process because the neophyte or his or her family members frequently become ill. Although it seems very unfair, this strange relationship with "power" and encounters with new illnesses serve as the basis for native healers to gain new experiences and knowledge. Unfortunately, sometimes they lose a patient or even a family member, but this is how it has been cosmically designed for healers to learn.

People ask me: What kind of Native healer are you? You think they would know by my name, but I guess most people don't know the Native spiritual ways anymore. I am a Grizzlybear doctor. That means that my primary power and gift is from the grizzlybear, but he is connected to other things such as the Sun and Moon, lightning and thunder, mountains and rivers, hummingbirds and plants, deer and wolves, ravens, hawks, and eagles, snakes and rocks, water and fish, wind and rain, and many other relations in Nature. Though among the northwestern California tribes I would be considered a "sucking doctor and spiritual doctor," other tribal groups such as the plains, southwest, and Alaskan would consider me a "Bear doctor."

My training was determined by the Great Creator, the spirits, the ancestors, and the elders. I started out as a dreamer, became an herbalist, then a seer and visionary, later a healer, and eventually evolved into a spiritual doctor. Essentially this means that I see the spirits, hear the spirits, work with the spirits, and they work through me. I am not a trance doctor, however; I do not go into a trance. I was also taught to use the sacred sweat lodge for ceremony and doctoring, and the War Dance Ceremony was willed to me. I am not a "pipe carrier" as I did not start out in that kind of tribal system. My own Iroquois people might not even recognize me for what I really am because for the last 200 years or so, we have not had individual medicine men and women. Instead we have societies who do the doctoring, such as the False Face Society and the Little Water Society. Originally we had Native healers but that changed according to need. In the last decade a few individual medicine men have emerged, such as Mad Bear Anderson and Beeman Logan, and they were criticised by their own people for breaking the norm.

Maybe the people need to relearn that it is not they who have the authority to choose or decide who will be a medicine man; the Great Creator makes this kind of decision. My record is straight with the Great Creator despite anyone's judgment. It has to be straight in order to qualify for the knowledge and powers, and to be his servant. I don't claim to be a saint, and I surely don't want to be anyone's guru. But I have strived to be a higher spiritual person. I wanted to be spiritual because I had good mentors to emulate. And the mountains do that to a person. The spirits of the mountains are magical and mysterious. They pull a person like a magnet. We need mountains as symbols of spirituality and reminders of sacredness. Every human being who walks the earth should be inclined toward spiritual development and evolvement because in the Beginning we were spirits. Perhaps most people have forgotten that reality since they have become civilized humans. Maybe they have forgotten that we are still spirits in a human shell.

So it is with the makeup of our entire being. We have a mind, a body, and a soul, and we all have spiritual guardians of some kind. From the moment we entered this earth plane we had to have assistance; we could not have possibly made it on our own. And when we die and leave these bodies, our guardian spirit will help us to the other side, into the spirit world. However, sometimes it happens that we make so many violations upon this earth that our guardian spirit deserts us out of disgust, or a sorcerer or an evil spirit takes it away.

That guardian spirit or ally is real. It is an archetypal part of our unconscious, and for most it will take on some kind of animal form. According to the Law of Cosmic Duality there are two sides to everything. We are human, and we are also animal. Through the vision quest we find out what our animal spirit power is or can become. Sometimes a life crisis, accident, sickness, or disease will bring this side of ourselves to the surface. When this happens, we need to confront it, become one with it, and cultivate it. This is another reason our Native people have the sacred sweat lodge and vision quest. They are the spiritual tools we were given to find out who we really are and to evolve higher spiritually. I have met people who claim they identified their "totem" through meditation or a tarot card reading, but they are only fooling themselves. There are many different kinds of symbols—animals, spirits, even demons and phantoms—in our subconscious mind. There is no easy way out in the process of "self-discovery," and all races of humankind have had the process of fasting and vision-seeking in order to get in touch with their real Self or what some have called "higher self."


Trials and Tests

There is a predetermined path that one must follow in order to become a Native healer, or medicine person. You are born with the power, you inherit the power, or it can be willed to you. Then you have the calling. Most Native healers are therefore bloodline; their parents, grandparents, or foreparents were medicine people. In this way it is passed down through the genetic and psychic structure. But even if you are born with it, you will not necessarily "become." Sometimes it passes over a generation or two and resurfaces, as with artists in a family. All of the children of an artist will inherit some degree of artistic talent or ability, but as the generations go by the family might not notice it. Sometime later, one of the grandchildren might suddenly display talent and the people say, "She's just like her grandmother (or great-grandfather)!" Medicine power is the same way only more complex and more difficult. It is extremely hard to explain to people who have never lived the Indian way or been raised in that cultural context.

Even if you have the capacity, the path to becoming a Native healer is not easy. There is evidently some kind of definite cosmic procedure that we must follow. You can't go to college and study for it. It is not like training to become a doctor in the White man's way. There are no books, no units of credit. But you do have tests and exams to pass. It is only through severe pain, suffering, sickness, and death itself that you gain access to another form of reality. That "other world" is where you find the knowledge, experience, qualifications, and power to help the people.

The calling comes in the form of a dream, accident, sickness, injury, disease, near-death experience, or even actual death. For example, when I was four years old my family took me on a picnic up in the Six Nations area of the Allegheny Mountains, outside of Salamanca, New York, near a place known as Thunder Rocks. I can still remember it clearly, although I was very young at the time. I had been complaining of a sore throat, headache, fever, and leg cramps, and the long drive in the car from Buffalo made my illness worse. I didn't have anyone to play with since my younger brother was barely walking at the time. Although I was sick, I kept wishing I had other kids to play with. I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but I began to see little Indian people, much smaller than my younger brother. They were running around, dodging in and out behind trees, bushes, and rocks. I thought they were playing "peek-a-boo" with me. As sick as I was, I couldn't help laughing. As I played with them, they kept leading me farther and farther away from the picnic site. I got dizzy from all the running and playing around, and began to throw up. I don't remember much after that except that the little people kept pulling on me to get me up to go with them.

When I woke up I was in my bedroom at home in Tondawanda. My whole body was on fire with fever. The room was dark except for the abrupt flashing of lightning, the loud crack of thunder, and big balls of hailstones and rain hitting the window.

I saw a spirit standing at the foot of my bed, and it scared me. At first I thought it must be a dream, but it wasn't; everything around me was real. I'll never forget what that spirit looked like and how he was dressed. He wore a traditional Iroquois hat with one eagle feather sticking up on top and a sash made from hummingbird feathers strung across his shoulder. His long white hair dangled past his bearclaw necklace, and he held two items in his hand—an eaglewing fan and a small pipe. As I sat there shivering in amazement, he came closer and said; "Do not be afraid, my son. I am one of your ancestors. Watch what I do, as I sing and dance around you. And remember this, because someday when you get older you will help heal others the same way."


Excerpted from Native Healer by Medicine Grizzlybear Lake. Copyright © 1991 Medicine Grizzlybear Lake. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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