Spirit Woman: The Teachings of the Shields

Overview

Lynn V. Andrews takes the reader with her as she goes on inward journeys with the help of the Sisterhood of the Shields, and relates the stories of others.

Join her as she is initiated into the Sisterhood and creates her own shield, which will show her the nature of her spiritual path (Spirit Woman). Follow her to the Yucatan, where the medicine wheel leads her, and she is faced with the terrifying reality of the butterfly tree (Jaguar Woman). Enter the Dreamtime with her, where...

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Spirit Woman: The Teachings of the Shields

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Overview

Lynn V. Andrews takes the reader with her as she goes on inward journeys with the help of the Sisterhood of the Shields, and relates the stories of others.

Join her as she is initiated into the Sisterhood and creates her own shield, which will show her the nature of her spiritual path (Spirit Woman). Follow her to the Yucatan, where the medicine wheel leads her, and she is faced with the terrifying reality of the butterfly tree (Jaguar Woman). Enter the Dreamtime with her, where she emerges in medieval England as Catherine, and encounters the Grandmother, who offers to show Andrews how to make her life one of goodness, power, adventure, and love (The Woman of Wyrrd).

Not all these stories describe the author's own spiritual experiences. Meet Sin Corazön, an initiate into the Sisterhood, whose husband abandons her. She nearly succumbs to her inner dark power and unleashes her rage on men and the Sisterhood (Dark Sister). Andrews also writes about the elder women of the Sisterhood: their loves, their lives, their losses (Tree of Dreams).

Andrews shows us how to channel our own spiritual and intellectual energy and balance the need for love with the desire for power (Love and Power). She takes the reader on numerous spiritual journeys that inevitably uplift.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585425761
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/16/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Andrews is the author of nineteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers Medicine Woman and Jaguar Woman. A preeminent teacher in the field of personal development and spirituality, she is the founder of the Lynn Andrews Center for Sacred Arts and Training.

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Read an Excerpt

Praise for Lynn V. Andrews

“Lynn Andrews continues to write of her apprenticeship to the Native American shaman Agnes Whistling Elk in this companion to her earlier Medicine Woman. The most remarkable element of this book is its ability to communicate a sense of both the physical and spiritual lessons that Andrews has learned during her stays with the Cree Indians.

“Her previous book detailed her initiation into the teachings of the Sisterhood of the Shields, a secret society traditionally the sole province of Native American women, and in this account she continues her education, revealing in the process why she felt compelled to return to Whistling Elk for further study.

“Both books are notable not only for the glimpse they provide of an unfamiliar culture, but also for Andrews’s quietly powerful style and the humility with which she opens herself to new and often seemingly alien experiences.”

Booklist (American Library Association)

“We are lucky that the likes of Agnes Whistling Elk still exist, and that one such as Lynn Andrews has had the opportunity to experience the ways of a medicine woman and has lived to write about it. Andrews’s books are a glimpse into a world of the miraculous and the eternal, and intimate a true understanding of the extraordinary laws of nature.”

Yoga Journal

“A beautiful study of an unfamiliar culture . . . excellent reading.”

The McCormick Messenger, McCormick, SC

BOOKS BY LYNN V. ANDREWS

Medicine Woman

Spirit Woman

Jaguar Woman

The Woman of Wyrrd

Dark Sister

Love and Power

Tree of Dreams

The Power Deck

Teachings Around the Sacred Wheel

Writing Spirit

This book is dedicated to my mother Rosalyn and my daughter Vanessa whose love and understanding have made my journey possible.

With special appreciation to Twila Nitsch Yehwehnode of the Seneca Nation and Paula Gunn Allen for being the medicine women that they are.

With great thanks to John V. Loudon, my editor, whose thoughtfulness and dedication have helped me tremendously.

THE MOON IN YOUR HANDS

If you take the moon in your hands and turn it round

(heavy, slightly tarnished platter) you’re there;

if you pull dry sea-weed from the sand and turn it round

and wonder at the underside’s bright amber, your eyes

look out as they did here,

(you don’t remember)

when my soul turned round,

perceiving the other-side of everything,

mullein-leaf, dogwood leaf, moth-wing and dandelion-seed under the ground.

—H.D. [HILDA DOOLITTLE],

from The Selected Poems of H. D.

Preface

This is a true story. Some of the names and places in this book have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

I am a woman.

The last several years of my life have been spent on a spiritual quest. My path led me first to many male teachers. Each of them, in their own way, gave me startling insights into my own nature. Still, something was lacking. I knew I wanted to learn from a woman—for me, that was the only way. I was lucky. After a series of extraordinary events, Agnes Whistling Elk, a Native American Medicine Woman living in Manitoba, Canada, became my teacher.

When I first met Agnes, I asked her if she thought it was strange for someone from Beverly Hills to be sitting in her quiet cabin in Manitoba asking for help.

“There are always helpers and signs to point the way for anyone who is willing to follow them,” she said. “Unknowingly, for the first time in your life, you have followed your true path. No, it is not surprising that you are here. Many omens have spoken of your coming, and I would be surprised if it were any other way. You know that enlightenment is arrived at in a different way for a woman than for a man.”

I asked Agnes if she taught men the same as woman. She laughed and said I should discover that answer for myself. “Teach the next ten men you meet how to have a baby.”

Spirit Woman (previously published as Flight of the Seventh Moon) describes how Agnes initiated me into my womanliness and selfhood. Through a series of visions and ceremonies, she took me around a circle of learning, and gave me a working mandala, a shield that I can carry in my everyday life. Within the experiences of my rite of passage is the ancient wisdom of woman. My story is like the story of all women involved in search. Our situations are different because we all are unique, but our source of understanding is the same.

Agnes has never told me what I must learn. She has simply put me into situations where I must grow and change to survive. Medicine Woman tells of how Agnes guided me through the four aspects of my beginning work. Much of this involved making me physically strong, because she feels that there must be a balance between spiritual learning and physical endurance. Agnes also placed me in situations where I learned to balance the male and female elements within me. Much of that training had to do with the search for the sacred marriage basket. Finally, she taught me about making an act of power or an act of beauty in the world. For me that was writing a book. I learned that the reason for an act of beauty is to create a mirror for yourself so that you can begin to know intimately who you are. Agnes also made it very clear to me through paranormal events, my travels to Canada, and the work in dreaming that it is very important for us to be lifted out of our mechanical existence so that real change—perhaps even transformation—has a chance to occur. Our structures and beliefs must be suspended so that something new can be heard.

I once asked Agnes what she thought about the biblical expression, “many are called but few are chosen.” She laughed and said that we are all called and we all are chosen if we simply have the courage to step into the unknown. I have written so that you may also share in the ancient traditions as memorized by Agnes Whistling Elk and the Sisterhood of the Shields.

The Sisterhood of the Shields is a secret society based in the ancient traditions of woman. Although its membership has long been limited to Native Americans, the energy changes on our planet have made it necessary to initiate women of other races. We share our knowledge collectively, between tribes and nations, in an attempt to bring balance, wisdom, and a more complete view of truth to the land.

Protector-of-Children Shield: South

Sometimes I go about pitying myself,

and all the time

I am being carried on great winds across the sky.

—OJIBWAY, adapted by Robert Bly

from the translation of Frances Densmore

I stood at the entrance to the Beverly Hills Hotel. The warm wind from the south rippled like clean silk on my skin. The air smelled of honeysuckle and I took a deep breath, trying to relax. I was nervously waiting for Hyemeyohsts Storm, the author of Seven Arrows and medicine man from Montana, and two film producers from New York who wanted to make a film based on my book, Medicine Woman. The thought of seeing Hyemeyohsts again relieved some of my anxiety. I glanced up at the ominous black clouds overhead and wondered what could be keeping him so long.

As I waited for the valet to take my car, I gazed at the hotel’s sixteen-acre parkland. The pool, cabanas, and fabulous guests—kings and queens, movie stars, business executives—made the hotel very special, and ordinarily I would have been happy to be here. But today was different. I was on my way to Canada to stay with Agnes Whistling Elk, the Cree Indian woman who had become my teacher. I had rented my home a few days early, and planned to stay at the hotel in the interim.

As the valet took my car and bags, I was distracted by the arrival of a flesh pink Cadillac Seville, from which a gorgeous girl emerged. All eyes were riveted on her, and no wonder—her outfit was flesh pink, and so was her tea-cup poodle. That’s Hollywood, I thought ruefully. A limousine with license plates that read “FATHER” had also pulled up to the hotel, but with much less fanfare. As I watched from behind a tall pillar covered with ivy and flowers, all the doors to the limousine suddenly burst open at once, as if they had a mind of their own. No one got out for a moment, and then there was a flurry of activity as uniformed attendants scrambled to help an elderly gentleman out of the back seat and into a waiting electric wheel chair. I didn’t recognize him, but he seemed somehow familiar. He had a distinctive way of lifting his gnarled hand and impatiently directing everyone. He was almost growling at his embarrassed young chauffeur, who tripped and nearly fell over the wheelchair as he lifted it up over the curb.

As the distinguished gray-haired gentleman rolled past me, he suddenly swerved, brushing my leg and sending me tumbling toward the flower bed. I could hear the pansies being crushed beneath my high heels and I swung my arms around wildly, trying to keep my balance.

A hand grabbed my elbow. It was Hyemeyohsts, who had rushed up just in time to steady me. I lifted my foot out of the newly watered garden and removed my mud-covered high heel. One shoe on and one off, I hobbled my way into the hotel lobby with Storm, where I excused myself and went into the powder room. As I stood in front of the sink wiping the dirt off my high heel, I caught the reflection of a medium-tall blonde woman in a white silk dress staring at me from the mirror. I hesitated, peering at her image. She kept going in and out of focus. With a start, I realized I was looking at myself. My head ached.

I sat down on a pink velvet stool in front of the mirror and tried to clear my vision. Waves of nausea passed through me. I shook my head and watched the unfamiliar blurred image in the mirror. I looked awful and felt even worse. I felt like a patient coming out of anesthesia, who wakes to see unfamiliar walls and feels frightened and helpless. I wished Agnes could tell me what to do.

Agnes Whistling Elk is my teacher. This Native American medicine woman has many truly formidable qualities. She is old, yet often appears young and agile. For several years she has been dedicated to teaching me how to use the ancient wisdom of woman.

Agnes is often assisted by a medicine woman named Ruby Plenty Chiefs. Ruby is more gruff and often times rude. She makes me feel unsure of myself, and seems to reflect my own inner fears. She seems egotistical. But her powers are also formidable, and her every move has a purpose.

My training, as I see it now, had to do with breaking the cultural limitations imposed upon me—and, by inference, imposed on all women. When I told Agnes of my intention to write Medicine Woman, she warned me of the struggle I faced:

“You are writing about the ancient power of woman, about a teaching that has been nearly forgotten. There are some people who will fight against your message, but it is so necessary that it be heard that you must try. You are a white woman from a glamorous city, and they will find it hard to believe.”

Agnes believes deeply in the need to restore the balance between male and female energy on her beloved mother earth. She feels that we live in a time of vision, a time when the people of the earth are once again ready to hear many secrets that have long been hidden. This is a time of cleansing and breaking away. We can destroy our earth mother or learn to live in harmony with her. To learn to live in harmony in this day, both men and women must reeducate their femaleness. Agnes sees that it is the woman in all of us that needs to be healed and reborn.

It was in seeking to recapture this female energy that I encountered my adversary, Red Dog, who had stolen it, in the form of a sacred marriage basket, for himself. He is a white man who sought out Agnes in order to restore the female balance in his own consciousness. But Agnes is a hard taskmaster, and Red Dog was cruel. When he tried to take all the power for himself, Agnes cut him off and he became not a shaman but a sorcerer, who turned toward evil instead of love. I was and am more frightened of Red Dog than of anyone on earth.

My reverie was suddenly broken by a familiar voice. “Lynn, listen to me. You are in grave danger, and something must be done.” I heard Agnes’s voice so clearly in my head that I looked around for a moment to see if she were there. But there was only a well-dressed young woman washing her hands at the sink and the sound of “Strangers in the Night” on the piped-in Muzak.

“You have no shields, no protection. You are wide open and asking for attack. If you don’t want Red Dog to attack you, you must learn to make shields.”

“Shields?” I wondered, fear crawling up my spine.

“Yes,” she said, answering my thoughts. I closed my eyes. I could almost see her sitting at the wooden table in her cabin, an intense look on her ancient Indian face, her long grey braids brushing her red Pendleton shirt. “You see, your light is growing on the other side and you’re attracting all kinds of influences—good and bad—like moths to a flame. What is born into the physical world also exists in the spirit world.”

I thought to myself, “What kind of shields?”

Again she answered, “The kind of shield that allows only the thought forms of light to enter and returns all darkness and destruction to the sender.” Then she repeated slowly, in a far off voice in my mind. “Back to the shooter. You’re in trouble because you stole back the marriage basket and defeated Red Dog. You wouldn’t stand in front of a bobcat and ask him to leap on you, would you? You’d protect yourself, wouldn’t you? Well, you’re in a lot more danger than that! When you achieve a dream, you take that dream to the Spirit House for the Kachinas, the Keepers of the Great Dream, to manifest. So why didn’t you ask them for protection?”

“I didn’t know I was supposed to,” I said, as if I were actually talking to her.

“Protection is always the first thing you ask for.” She sounded impatient. “The second thing is direction. I didn’t think you were that stupid.”

“What do I do, Agnes? Will you help me?” I asked out loud. The woman washing her hands looked at me strangely and left quickly.

Agnes started to laugh. “Lynn, you’re playing the part of Poor Cow again, indulging in your own lack of courage.” And then her voice was gone.

I felt exhausted. Was Agnes’s voice a delusion? I had been in a trance. How long had I been in the powder room? It seemed like days. I glanced at my watch. Only minutes had passed. I hurried down to the lobby, still feeling quite ill.

“Hey, Lynn, are you okay?” Storm asked, obviously very concerned.

“Yes . . . I feel a little weak, that’s all. Probably need something to eat.” I must have looked awful, because he grabbed my arm and steered me across the red-carpeted foyer, his eyes never leaving me for an instant.

We sat down in the Polo Lounge and ordered lunch. The first thing I was aware of was the loud volume of voices. I felt again as if I were coming out of a haze. As it cleared, my senses were heightened. The noise level was incredible. I had to blink my eyes against the light that reflected off the highly polished silver on the tables and the expensive jewelry on the patrons. I shook my head to clear it. Hyemeyohsts still held my arm. He reached over gently and took my chin, turning my face towards him. “What’s going on with you?” He sounded alarmed.

“Hyemeyohsts, I’m feeling terribly ill.” A quick movement from across the room caught my eye. There he was again—that old man in the wheelchair. For a moment, the room seemed too quiet. Two well-dressed men appeared—one older and one younger. I realized they were the two men we had come to meet. “You must be Lynn Andrews,” said the younger one.

I was too dizzy to get up, so I extended my hand. “Mr. Stevens, how are you? This is Heyemeyohsts Storm.” I smiled thickly. They must have thought I was drunk.

“And may I present our money man from New York—Jack Portland,” the older gentleman smiled, and they both sat down. Jack looked at me a long time and then said, “Lynn, I’m going to invest in your film idea, so let’s just get that out of the way. I agree to all the terms we discussed on the phone. My lawyer will call your agent tomorrow, okay?”

“Yes.”

“What I really want to talk about are your book and your experiences.” He settled back in his chair with the customary assuredness of someone who commands attention. He adjusted his protruding abdomen back under his belt, and cocked his head to one side. “About all this stuff concerning sorcery and Red Dog. We all know there is no such thing as sorcery, let alone. . . .” As he spoke, a brilliant shaft of light cut into the room from one of the high garden windows. Flecks of dust in the air made it glow, lighting Jack’s grey hair like a halo. Suddenly, images of that incredible confrontation with Red Dog two years earlier came flooding into my mind.

Following Agnes’s instructions, I had gone to Red Dog’s cabin to steal back the powerful marriage basket. Thinking I was alone, I reached for it. Just then, he appeared out of nowhere. Red Dog had enormous power, and, as he too lunged for the basket, great fibres of light shot out from the basket, connecting him to it. The tricks of light in the Polo Lounge seemed to bring that moment back in full force. Jack shifted in his chair. The light from the window bounced off a spoon and glared into my eyes.

Jack continued, “And what’s all this crap about luminous fibres? I’m pretty gullible, but how do you expect me to believe that the sorcerer dissolved into an old man as you cut the last one? That must have been a metaphor, right?”

Now, as I looked at Jack, the shaft of light was behind him once more. I felt it odd and synchronistic that he wanted to discuss those final moments when I stood face to face with the one I most feared.

Suddenly, I was even more nauseated. I tried to breathe deeply, collecting myself with all the energy I possessed. A terrible pressure was building in my head and my vision was blurring. For a moment I could hear the winds of Manitoba blowing through the room of Red Dog’s cabin, and I heard the low, ferocious growl of his voice.

“I insist that you admit to us that there is no such thing as sorcery,” Jack demanded. I started to double over in my chair with a stomach cramp. The seizure passed unnoticed, and the two men busied themselves ordering hors d’oeuvres and more drinks.

Across the room, I noticed the man in the electric wheelchair, bathed in a pool of light. He was wearing an immaculate and magnificently styled black pin-striped suit. He kept running his fingers slowly through his thick white hair, apparently enjoying the feel of it. His profile was oddly familiar. I squinted at him, wondering what it was that attracted me to him. I saw him run his hands over the wheelchair, and then I looked at his feet and gasped. Hyemeyohsts grabbed me as I started to shudder. The old man was wearing beaded leather mocassins. The cut glass beads were glinting in the sunlight. Slowly, the man turned and looked at me squarely. There was something bestial in his eyes.

“His feet, . . .” I stammered to Hyemeyohsts. “Red Dog.” At the pronouncement of this name, I doubled over in pain. I clutched at my legs, and felt something attached to my calf. “Hyemeyohsts . . . my leg . . . on my leg!” Storm bent down, knocking over the remainder of his drink. An old turquoise trade bead was actually embedded in my leg! I frantically tore at it, it fell and skidded across the floor. I heard dark winds howling in my head. I began to cough violently. “I’m choking to death,” I managed to say. I could hardly breathe.

“Hey, what’s the matter, Lynn?” Jack asked. People were staring at me with pity and contempt. I must have been quite a sight. The maitre d’ and Hyemeyohsts assisted me past the curious customers to the elevator. The two producers just sat there, helpless. As the elevator rose, I could feel myself sinking. I remember seeing the number “16” on my room door, and then the great banana leaves printed on the walls seemed to flutter and blur. I was in a cold sweat as Storm lay me back on my bed and closed the drapes.

“Where is your medicine bundle?” he demanded.

“In that leather bag.” I pointed to my pile of bags in the corner of the room. Hyemeyohsts ripped open the zipper and pulled out my red medicine blanket, which I had tied with leather thongs. He deftly unrolled it and brought me my gourd rattle, tearing the feather off the stem. He helped me to a sitting position and handed the feather to me.

“Lynn, now you must eat this eagle feather or you will die. Red Dog has laid the swirls of death upon you. This feather is the only power I can think of that can save you.”

I took the small feather without question and began to chew. It sounded like I was crushing bones. Waves of nausea coursed through me. I was convulsed in pain. I chewed and chewed, determined to hold on to life. The phone kept ringing until Storm took it off the hook. People kept pounding on the door. I heard an ambulance wailing in the distance. What a grotesque way to die, I thought. When the feather was completely swallowed, Hyemeyohsts handed me a glassful of some bitter liquid made from the contents of his pouch. “Drink,” he ordered, holding me up in a semi-sitting position. I gagged it down and then I collapsed.

I fell into a thankful sleep. My dreams that night appeared from the most healing part of my being. While I was dreaming, I was aware of being tended by merciful energies in the form of stars. My attention was being focused on a tiny blue-white point of light that existed both within my heart and in space. It had an enchanting quality, and yet I felt it within, as the most powerful part of myself.

I awoke at dawn the next day and sneezed from the stench of stale smoke that permeated the air. The ashtray was filled with cigarette butts. Storm was sitting cross-legged on the floor near my bed, his eyes closed, his breathing even. The ravages of room service lay next to him. I was glad he was there for me: He slowly opened his eyes and smiled with such a tender expression that I started to cry. He got up and sat down on the edge of my bed. He looked pale and exhausted. His eyes conveyed clearly that I had nearly died and that he was grateful for my survival. He stroked my forehead gently.

“Lynn, why didn’t you tell me that you had no protection?”

“I assumed I did. Well, actually I hadn’t given it much thought.”

“Lynn, you have taken the woman power of one of the most powerful sorcerers alive and you haven’t given ‘much thought’ to protecting yourself?” He shook his head ruefully. “You novices in medicine are all the same. You are unaware of the real powers of the world even though you’ve availed yourself of them.” He leaned forward and took my hand firmly. “Don’t you know that Red Dog is going to try to kill you? He nearly did succeed.” Storm’s frustration with my stupidity was mounting. He got up and paced, murmuring something I couldn’t make out. Then he whirled around and loudly whispered, “You’re as wide open as a parking lot. You aren’t even wearing your earring. Look, my friend, you must learn immediately how to shield yourself. Your Agnes is the only one who can help you. She is the only one who can save your life.”

“I have some business to attend to, and then I’m going to give her the book about all of us,” I said weakly. “In a few days.”

“Lynn, you are being given the opportunity to become a medicine person, a person capable of seeing and knowing and piercing through all the layers of illusion. You must be a warrioress. Your growth is a process and you may not cut out any step of the journey. Accept the lessons, harsh as they may seem to you. See how identified you are with approval and disapproval. Stop seeing yourself through everybody else’s eyes and use your own. Learn to perceive the world from your original starting point.” I remembered my dream of the blue-white star. I recalled the words of my father, who said, “I hope after I’m gone that you find someone who cares enough to lovingly correct you. The whole world waits to be lovingly corrected.”

We both sighed in unison. I felt a deep feeling of connection with this man and his words. We were one.

*    *    *

After two days of rest, I left for Manitoba, feeling strong again. I landed at Winnepeg in bright sunshine, rented a car, and began my journey to the reserve. From the town of Crowley, it seemed no time at all before I pulled up to Agnes’s cabin. I was excited. I grabbed my book and small suitcase and gathered up the grocery bag filled with cigarettes, white bread, bologna, and other foods I knew she liked. As I approached the cabin, wondering if Agnes would be home, the door burst open and out came Agnes, Ruby, and July, Ruby’s apprentice, a beautiful Cree woman in her twenties. They were all laughing and bumping into each other like puppies.

“You’re late,” Ruby said smiling. “We’ve been expecting you for hours.” Agnes laughed at the surprise on my face. July ran to me and took the groceries. She looked at me quizzically and said, “What took you so long, Lynn?”

I was amazed. “There’s no way to get a message to anyone out here. How did you know I was coming?”

“Oh, Red Dog phoned ahead to warn us.”

They all laughed and hugged me.

“We’re having venison tonight in your honor,” Agnes said.

I was touched by their warm welcome. I took a deep breath. It all felt so good. For the first time in months I gave myself permission to relax.

Inside, Agnes handed me a paper cup. “Here’s some tea for you.” Steam was rising from it. There was a moment of silent expectancy, and then I carefully placed my book in the center of the table and waited for their reactions.

“What’s that? Even though I’m blind, I can see that you’re really full of yourself,” Ruby said sharply, as she pointed at the book. Agnes and July looked from one to the other with shrugs.

“That’s the book I wrote,” I said proudly. “I brought it to read to you.”

“What’s it about?” Ruby asked.

“It’s about you and Agnes and July and Red Dog and the marriage basket and. . . .” I stopped myself. “It’s about all of us!” I was beaming with delight.

“What! You never told me you were going to write a book about me.”

Agnes laughed. “Ruby, we don’t tell you everything.”

Ruby looked affronted. “Agnes, you never told me Lynn was writing a book. Oh, I would never have helped you had I known. I would never have loaned you the Mother Rattle.”

“Come off it, Ruby. That was my rattle, anyway,” Agnes said.

I became alarmed at the sudden turn of events. “Hey, what’s happening? I thought you’d all be really happy about the book.”

“Well. . . .” Ruby fingered a scab on her left elbow. “I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say in your book.”

“Ruby, eat some dinner,” July said, putting a plate of venison in front of her. “Come on, it’ll make you feel better.”

“Listen, don’t tell me what’ll make me feel better.” She swatted a fly on the table and angrily stabbed the meat on her plate with her fork. Each time I tried to speak and tell them about my experience with Red Dog, Ruby held up her hand to silence me, as if she knew what I was going to say.

I couldn’t believe Ruby’s outrageous behavior. She was ruining everything. I regarded her suddenly, not as the powerful medicine woman I had written about, but as a spoiled, petulant child determined to ruin the party.

Agnes sat down to eat. Between bites she poked at the book with her fork. A small piece of fat struck to the front page, staining it. I quickly wiped it off as best I could, but the stain remained. My irritation was mounting. This certainly was not the reception I had expected. I withdrew and pictured myself having a good stiff drink at home with civilized people.

Agnes read my expression. “Come on, Lynn, we’ll have a real civilized supper and you read to us from your book.” Listlessly, I opened to the first page and began to read. The joy of sharing this event was snuffed out for me. Nevertheless, I read on for two whole chapters without looking up even once. I suppose I would have continued, but Ruby was groaning and moaning, holding her belly. I was thoroughly distracted. She finally let out a long belch. That was it. I slammed the book shut.

“Ruby, what’s going on?” I asked, looking at her with undisguised disgust.

She whined, “You didn’t make me out to be a very nice person—which I am. People will get the idea that I’m an old hag. I’m quite attractive for a lady of my age, don’t you think? Agnes? I’m certainly much more attractive than Lynn made out.” Ruby fluffed her hair for the imaginary photographers and tossed her head like a young girl.

“Yes, Ruby, but look at what she did to me,” Agnes piped in. “I’m in good shape for my age, too!” Agnes sucked in her gut and strutted around like a proud turkey. I had to laugh in spite of my anger.

“Why are you making fun of me?” I asked.

“The least you could have done is say that we’re only middle-aged.”

“Yeah,” Ruby chimed in.

Why were they doing this? Were they ridiculing my own vanity? I was disturbed by the thought.

“Actually, Lynn, it seems like you’re favoring Agnes in your book. It’s a good thing you aren’t my apprentice. I’d feel downright betrayed. You make us both appear old, mean, and tricky.” In fact, that was just the way I was experiencing them at that precise moment. Then, with the tone of a proper little girl, Ruby said coyly, “You know we’re just as nice as we can be.”

I noticed July tip-toeing out the door, apparently unseen by the two old women. They were both preening themselves and strutting back and forth, wringing their hands in an absurd demonstration interspersed with yells to each other and to me. I sat watching in utter disbelief. My feelings were hurt. I felt totally confused. Suddenly, Ruby stopped her shenanigans and turned to face me. She walked over slowly and scanned me with her hands, holding them about two inches from my body. She closed her eyes.

“Lynn”, she said, “you use your body as if it were a rag tied onto the tail of your consciousness.”

Agnes joined in her laughter and peered at me with her face contorted, poking and plucking at my clothes. I felt assaulted in every way. Ruby sat down, her attitude changing to one of mock concern.

“I’m sure Agnes, your great teacher, has warned you that you are in extreme danger now.”

“Well, yes, sort of, but what do you mean?” I looked at Agnes for an explanation.

“I was going to get around to that.” Agnes looked a bit sheepish.

“Get around to what?” I asked impatiently. Anxiety began creeping up my groin into my stomach. I started to ask Agnes about hearing her voice at the hotel. I needed desperately to tell her about my near brush with death.

But Ruby interrupted me every time I tried, and waved her hand for silence. “Ha, Now you’re in the greatest danger you’ve ever been in.” She leaned forward and whispered, “And you may not survive!”

Agnes suddenly looked very serious.

Ruby glared at Agnes. “I should never have asked you to help me get back at Red Dog.”

“You could never have done it without me,” Agnes said.

This was all too much. I couldn’t control myself. “I feel like a pawn!” I cried out.

“What’s a pawn?” Ruby asked innocently.

“It’s a piece on a chessboard that doesn’t have much power.”

“That’s you all right,” Ruby acknowledged.

“I’m outraged. You’ve used me and tricked me. Why?” I felt like I was going to choke.

Agnes quietly sat down, cocked her head, and watched me go through my turmoil.

I finally took a breath. “Agnes, what’s happening, what aren’t you telling me?” I was exploding from sheer frustration!

“Ho! You’ve stepped into this circle of power, and what did you think would happen?”

Ruby gruffly shoved back her chair. “Where’s July?” She walked around the cabin, and then abruptly said, “I’m leaving,” and stomped out. A moment later, she poked her head in the door and said, “See you,” and left.

It took me a moment to gather my courage again to ask, “What am I doing wrong? I’ve done as you told me. I thought that my act of writing this book was a form of protection—revealing some of your teaching—bringing these secrets out of darkness into light.” My voice sounded as if it were coming from a deep well.

“You’ve got to start using your head, Lynn.”

“I thought I was, Agnes,” I said weakly. “I thought you’d be happy about the book.” I felt about five years old. “I thought that’s what you had instructed me to do.” I was on the verge of crying. Agnes got up and poured some more tea. For a moment, she almost looked tender, and then she walked over and patted me rather hard on the head.

“But I thought the marriage basket was going to fill me up?”

“Nope. It makes you complete in a way. But that’s just the beginning.” Agnes sighed. “You’re my apprentice. It is law that I must help you. Unfortunately,” she grinned at me, “I don’t have the knowledge you need at this turn of the road. . . .”

“Oh, that’s delightful. Now you tell me.”

“Ruby can help you.”

“Oh, great. The blind leading the blind.” I thought of Ruby’s insolence and shivered. “She’ll never help me. Can you get her to help me?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?” I panicked. “She’s your friend!”

“She’s not my friend. I’ve never liked Ruby. She’s a medicine woman and I respect her. I respect the work she does. Aside from that, she’s the most egotistical old bat I’ve ever known.”

“But she’s your best—”

Agnes interrupted me. “I’ve given away a lot to her. You’d think she’d help me. But when the chips are down, Ruby will really put it to you. I don’t like her apprentices much, either. July is all right, but Ben and Drum are. . . .” She made a thumbs down motion. “Ruby’s let her power go to her head.”

“Ben and Drum? You must be kidding!”

Agnes’s face was as serious as could be.

“Agnes, how did they become Ruby’s apprentices?”

“Ben and Drum were left without a teacher after you took the marriage basket away from Red Dog.”

I was shocked.

Agnes continued. “They first came to me and I ran ’em off because I just don’t like men apprentices. For me to teach a man, I have to reverse everything. Got no use for them. But Ruby . . . she’s a certain kind of medicine woman that has the kind of power they need.

“I saw them coming up the road one day. They were very nervous and made tobacco offerings to me. They had several good blankets, so I let them come on. Drum gave me the tobacco. I said, ‘What is it you want from me?’ I had to receive them because that is the law. Drum said, ‘We want you to teach us and initiate us into your way.’ I said, ‘I can look at both of you idiots and tell that my heyoka road, the teachings of the Sacred Clown, or the Contrary, is not for you. If you want my advice, you should go to someone else. Maybe someone down south. Maybe Colorado. But if you want real power, go and learn from Ruby.’ They made quite a fuss when they heard that suggestion. They wanted me, because you, as my apprentice, had defeated Red Dog, their teacher. They had been Red Dog’s devoted apprentices until you took back the marriage basket and stole away his woman power. No, he will not be the same until he has regained his balance. And that will take a long time. Maybe age will get him.”

“Agnes, why do you use the term heyoka—isn’t that a Lakota word?”

“I use the word heyoka because my teacher was part Cree, part northern Cheyenne, and part Lakota, and her teacher was Lakota. I traveled a long way from home to learn from her; it was a long time ago. I speak many Indian languages and Lakota is one. I learned the heyoka way in her tongue. She was the only one who could help me when my daughter went to join the ancestors. I was in great pain then. I understood very little. Because I learned much from my Lakota and Cheyenne grandmothers about medicine, I use many of their words in my work, as does Ruby. Their language has great power and dignity for me.”

“I like the sound of it, too.”

“I know you do. I can see that it affects you deeply. It should, you once spoke Lakota.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you. You need to remember on your own. It will mean much more to you. But the language sound will take you back to that place of forgetting and remembering, to a happy life you once had on the plains long before the white man came.”

I bit my lip. Agnes’s soft voice and words made me suddenly want to cry. I looked away. Agnes took my chin in her hand and turned my face toward her. She made me look at her.

“Oh, I can see you laugh, but I can’t watch you cry?” Tears rolled down my cheeks and she held me for a moment.

Agnes studied my face. She continued, this new, gruff attitude returning. She picked up her teacup and placed it on the very edge of the table. “To get back to what I was saying, I would teach you anything and everything I know, but your needs have put me in a funny position.” She flicked her paper teacup off the edge of the table. It fell soundlessly on the floor. Agnes leaned forward. “Ruby and I have always drawn from each other as worthy opponents. Now we’d better all be careful. That lady is capable of anything. Particularly if you really need something from her.”

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