Thursday, April 24, 2008

Of Buffalo Robes and Brain Tanning

What a strange month April has turned out to be for me! Starting with whirlwind decluttering and cleaning inside and out for the We-TV series that turned out not to happen, then got a call from a film student in Iowa City...could HE come film me for a documentary he's doing on psychics and mediums? So, instead of filming with a national crew Tuesday of last week, I spent 3.5 hours filming with a masters student from U of I. He'll let me know how it comes out sometime soon here.

My dear Lakota friends have also gone through quite a month for a different reason...and I have to admit to joining in on the unusual goings on.

Although Lester has been a practicing Medicine Man for 20+ years, he had not gone through the traditional Yuwipi ceremony that is required for the members of the Lakota Nation to recognize and sanction him as such. How can I describe the pressure of this ceremony....hmmmm. A good analogy would be someone who has been a practicing minister AND doctor for years being tested by other clergy and physicians of the church and the medical community to see if God really truly DOES indeed speak to them and through them by performing an absolutely full blown miracle on the spot! Lester is covered tied up in a sacred blanket, and Spirits must come to untie him (among other things.)

Two years ago, I created this sacred blanket for Lester for his ceremony by hand dying the fabric and sewing it to his specifications. He's been gathering sacred materials for this event for the past 3 years...including elk ivory teeth, dirt from the entrance to mole hills, choke cherry sticks, and other things that would make you and I shake our heads and go, "Huh???"

A Yuwipi ceremony involves having at least one other Yuwipi Man come to perform it on the candidate. Many of these men can trace their spiritual heritage back through generations of medicine men with very famous names you would recognize. There are only a few dozen traditional Lakota medicine men in North America and even fewer Yuwipi men alive at any one point in time. Two of the current standing Yuwipi Men were at Lester and Mindi's house this month performing Lester's first ceremony.

So, long story short, Lester went through the first of four ceremonies a couple of weeks ago and thank the Ancestors, the Spirits came and untied him. However, during the ceremony, it was made clear that he was missing two key things....1) His own buffalo robe (from a full grown male bison in winter coat, that also has the tail still attached) and 2) ropes made of deer or elk skin strips, created by tanning the leather with the brains of that animal. I believe he was instructed that he MUST have these things before June 1st and that Lester was not to seek these things or purchase them himself, but that those who he had worked with in lodge were to go find them for him.

Until 10 days ago, I had no idea what "brain tanning" was. Apparently it's a very old, very traditional method of tanning a hide that makes it very soft and very supple by the end of the process. Most leather these days is commercially tanned and easy to find. What's not so easy is finding someone who does brain tanning at all...I managed to seek out a couple of buck-skinners, and 2 native folks, who did this process, but not very many people understand or go through the effort to do this method any more. Second, even if I found someone, it's not currently deer season and I needed a full deer or elk hide (as least a 3 x 5 piece) that could be shipped to Iowa before the end of May! It took dozens of calls and e-mails to find a man in CT who was getting ready to finish up smoking a batch of four hides this weekend. Apparently, after the brain tanning these hides are pretty white and it takes hanging them over a wood fire to get them to be a nice toasty golden color. The CT Tanner said he would be happy give us our pick of the four and ship it out on Monday.

Then I made calls all over seeking a reasonably priced full size buffalo robe. Yee-gads! These robes can get costly! If you look on the internet, a full size male bison or buffalo skin can run up there well above $1000! This was not quite in our budget, so I grabbed my handy search engine and began calling members of the Iowa Bison Association. I figured if I bought locally I might have a better chance of finding something reasonably priced, and those who raised bison for their meat would likely have robes for sale from their own animals. Sure enough, had a fellow call me back within less than two hours from Harlan, Iowa (near the west edge) who owned a bison ranch. He quoted me a VERY reasonable price and I told him he had a deal. This morning I drop my son off to school and keep on trucking a couple of hours west to pick up not only the buffalo robe for Lester, but also two coolers full of frozen bison meat.

Sometimes my psychic work overlaps with my spiritual work and that can and does often take me down unusual paths!