Back in 1990, I was something of a spiritual train-wreck waiting for a place to jump the tracks. My life has always been complicated and often full of pain, both physical and emotional. I explored a lot of different religious/spiritual beliefs from the time I was 17 until I hit 20. Nothing truly appealed, what with so many conflicting systems available to the human soul. The closest I had come by 1990 was Wicca. That came to a screeching halt once I reached a certain point.
The teacher I was studying with was trying to have me use the Kabbalistic Cross as a grounding technique as part of ritual. This did not sit well with me. My entire being shrank back from it. She insisted that it must be this way and that I could do things my way after learning hers properly. That did it. I left and never looked back. My way or the highway teaching techniques generally have me with my thumb out on the side of the road instantly. If my very being is saying not to do something, why would I damage myself by going against it? Ridiculous! That was the end of my studies in Wicca.
My roommate at the time, Melinda, stuck with it and with that teacher. I was certainly not going to dictate to another how to live her life, so there wasn’t much to say. That was, until she decided to start using what she was learning on me. Then things began to come apart at the seams. A lot of things began going wrong. I blew up a register at work. I rolled Melinda’s car. I had two separate fires in my bedroom. (Me being stupid and using flame to meditate.) I lost my job and my second job the same day. How much does a person take before declaring something is definitely not right in their life? I yelled, “Uncle!”
I knew the owner of a metaphysical bookstore and was on friendly terms with him. Bob listened to my litany of woes sympathetically; shaking his head in consternation as the list went on and on and on. Once I wound down, he suggested I give a medicine man he knew a call. Grey Antelope was his name. He lived on the Santa Clara reservation. He could be extremely difficult to get a hold of but to keep trying. Grey Antelope traveled a lot, but might be able to help me find a solution to my spiritual quagmire. I was grateful. My own attempts to put my life back into a semblance of order were failing utterly. I took the number with heartfelt thanks.
Grey Antelope answered on the second ring the first time I called. Talk about misleading advertising… or was this just Creator’s way of cutting me to the head of the line? Whatever the case, I was and am grateful for that day’s results. Grey Antelope’s voice was deep and gruff but surprisingly gentle and soft at the same time. I explained who I was and how I had received his phone number. I could almost see he head nodding as I continued the conversation. I told him all of what I was encountering in my life and my feeling that it wasn’t something natural or that I could ‘fix’ it on my own. He concurred.
We talked for nearly two hours. It felt completely natural and went a long way toward calming me down from the emotional rafters I had clung to for weeks. He ended with saying that he didn’t think he could do much for me over the phone. Honestly, that was a relief. His credibility in my mind increased with those words. I don’t think I could trust someone that would claim to fix things sight unseen. He let me know he was going to be in Riverside within two weeks to perform a Dance. He gave the address and invited me to attend. He would see what he could do to help me then. I was relieved. An end to the seeming nightmare was at last within sight.
I did some research on protocol for asking a medicine person’s help. A gift of some type, which could be almost anything, and tobacco is usually the accepted way for most Nations. Not all, but most. I pondered a long time on what to give Grey Antelope. The ocean is very sacred to the Pueblos. Being a desert people, it honestly doesn’t surprise me that a vast expanse of water would be so. I had a large fossil that should be suitable. It was layer after layer of clamshells. It weighed about 2 pounds or so. I wrapped it carefully in red felt and tucked a pouch of pipe tobacco into the folds. Red is considered a sacred color, being the blood of the Earth. Tobacco is often used in prayer. There, I had put together my gift. I felt ready and waited for the day of the Dance.
The day came and I went. The Dance was being held at the home of a Dutch expatriate that went by the name of Willie Dancing Cloud. Grey Antelope had named her for her full head of long white hair. This was to be something I learned about later, that Grey Antelope would name each of his ‘children’, as he called us, when the name came to him. It was an honor to receive a name from him. She was hosting this Dance and had several times before. Many people came from all over Southern California to participate. It was absolutely fascinating to my ignorant eyes. The Dance was beautiful and powerful. Grey Antelope met with me and we spoke after the ceremony.
I presented my gift and ‘officially’ requested his help with my problem. He accepted the bundle and set it aside. Then he sat gazing at me for what seemed an eternity, but really wasn’t more than a minute or so. His dark eyes wandered over my face, looking almost through me at times. It was kind of eerie, if I am going to be honest about it. He took a deep breath and then nodded. He called over one of his students and asked her to ‘fix’ the problem. He placed my hand in hers and smiled down at me. He reassured me that Alicia Dancing Deer would be able to help me. And she did. I won’t go into involved detail about it, but the important part is that all of the not so entertaining disasters stopped from that night on. Say what you like about it, but I am not going to question good results.
Grey Antelope returned to New Mexico the following day. He invited me to come see him at his home there if ever I were in New Mexico. He welcomed company. I assured him that I would definitely see him and soon if I could manage it. His sincerity was pure and above question. He really was the kindest soul I have ever encountered in my life up until then and perhaps even to now. I knew I just had to go see him again, if only to thank him for the help he had given me so freely.
Melinda was glad that all of the problems had stopped. She agreed not to do anything else concerning me and Wicca. I was plenty glad about that. We salvaged our friendship out of the mess. And she offered to drive us out to New Mexico to see Grey Antelope that summer. Things were certainly improving. We made our preparations, gave Grey Antelope a call to say we were coming and off we went a couple of months later. The trip out was an adventure. Driving through Arizona and New Mexico was thrilling. The Painted Desert is beyond words. The trip was borderline magical.
We arrived on a Friday and headed out to the Santa Clara reservation. The directions he had given us were quite good and we had no trouble finding it or his home. He was sitting on his front porch waiting as we drove up. Grey Antelope invited us inside for some water. Naturally, we obliged. It had been a long, long drive, dusty and hot. The inside of his home was a haven of cool air and dimmed light.
He showed us his pottery. Santa Clara Pueblo is one of those that has the remarkable black pottery that is so prized by collectors. This was his main livelihood, making pottery and selling it around the country. The pieces he showed us were just gorgeous. We three talked the afternoon away until the sun was low on the horizon. Grey Antelope glanced at the mountains to the north and then made a suggestion on where we should stay the night.
The reservation maintained a campground open to the public (at that time) and he wanted us to stay there for the night. He grinned at us both and insisted. He gave us directions up to the grounds and also suggested we bathe in the stream that came down from the mountains. And we should keep a fire going all night. His face was full of smiles as he waved to our departing car. We were to come back in the morning to see him again. Sly old man, he didn’t tell us what we were really doing until we came back.
We did as directed, blithely setting out our blankets in the lean-to. The campsites all had a 3-sided shelter with a fireplace taking up one wall. A cement slab was the floor and a classic park picnic bench and table was in there too. It had a vaguely log cabin look to it from the outside. Melinda and I took turns bathing in the stream. Good grief, that water was cold! Snow runoff generally is, I suppose. I gathered up a bag full of sand from the bank of the stream, finding a golf ball in the process. I still have that sand in a cedar box, with the golf ball.
The fire was lit and we drifted off to sleep. At least we started to. Melinda let out a blood-curdling shriek just as I was almost out completely. Something had run across her hand. That was it! She grabbed her blankets and stomped off to the car. She spent the rest of the night there, safe from critters and such. I thoughtfully pulled up my blankets and laid them out on top of the picnic table. It was close to the fire and that warmth was just awesome. I drifted off.
I woke with a start to find the fire almost out. The dream I had been in the middle of was extremely vivid. And erotic. I know I was blushing fiercely. I hadn’t had a dream that sensual in ages. I built the fire back up. I drifted off to sleep again. I woke just as the fire was almost out again. This dream was NOT erotic in the least. Very intense though and with people I recognized. I was pretty disturbed about it. The dream wasn’t a nightmare, but it was certainly not pleasant. I drift off yet again. I woke to the dawn and shook myself all the way awake. The first dream had picked up where it left off. And had reached a most natural conclusion. Forget blushing, I was beat red and could feel the heat along my neck, ears, cheeks and forehead. No, it was not the fire since that had finally gone out as the sun came up.
Melinda told me later she had dreamed all night herself. We packed up, had breakfast in town and drove back to Grey Antelope with a lot of questions. He was waiting on his front porch again, with a huge grin. He congratulated us for completing his people’s Vision Quest. Our jaws fell open. He had tricked us into doing it without so much as a by your leave or asking if we wanted to do such. But it made sense also. I learned some things from the experience. Grey Antelope gave Melinda the name Dancing Crow. Mine, he told me, had not come yet. I was just about gnawing on my liver at that point. He just smiled and said it would come when it came. I swallowed my envy and nodded acceptance. What else could I do, harangue him into giving me something so important now, right now, because I want it now, damn it? Of course not!
We headed home and life continued on. I would speak with Grey Antelope on the phone frequently, never once having any trouble reaching him. His gentle nature was always soothing and his sense of humor bordering on Zen profound. I began studying Native American beliefs more seriously and finding a resonance within me. It felt right. It worked, for me. At last, I felt spiritually satisfied. I attended sweat lodges and medicine circles and other ceremonies. Life had purpose.
Then the other shoe dropped. As it always does when you get altogether too cocky. Grey Antelope was giving a pottery workshop in San Diego. He invited me to attend. I was thrilled. This was something I had been fascinated with and never had the courage to ask him about. This workshop would teach how to make the black pottery. I still have the otter that I made that weekend. I also have the name he gave me. Yes, finally, my name had come and it was in fact me to the core.
We worked through the day, preparing our pieces. That evening, Grey Antelope sang songs and danced. Just as the sun went down, heat lightning began striking all around the entire horizon. It was amazing. A circle of lightning no matter where you turned. He called out, laughed and grabbed my hands. “You are Lightning! Chikowanu in Tewa, the language of my people.” And I have kept that name ever since. My heart was full almost to bursting. This was worth waiting for.
The next day, I asked Willie Dancing Cloud to guide me through the Mescalero Apache Vision Quest. My mouth opened, the words came out and I was committed as she accepted. See, the irony is, I had sworn to myself I would NEVER, ever do that quest and certainly never any quest with her. After the words escaped off of my tongue, I was stunned. Why the hell had I done that? No help for it, I was obligated and I would not take back my words. I am built funny that way. Grey Antelope just nodded and smiled when I told him. He wasn’t surprised in the least.
My preparation for that quest was tumultuous to say the least. Least is best, I think. Dancing Cloud and I fought tooth and nail through the 6 months that followed. My stubborn nature against her force of will. Not a pleasant experience for either of us, I think. Regardless, I made it through and survived my 3 days and nights on the mountain. Grey Antelope had a hand in it as far as I am concerned.
I took one last trip out to see him prior to completion of the quest. My mom and step-dad wanted to go to New Mexico for their vacation. My youngest brother and sister went as well. We took two cars, theirs and my ’79 Caddy Coup de Ville. We were going to stop off to see Grey Antelope. At least I was going to stay with him while they continued on to Taos. Cool by me.
He welcomed the family as if they were his own. Sounds so cliché to say it, but it is simply the truth. He gifted my mom with a marriage bowl, my brother with a snakeskin belt and me with some of his wisdom. The folks took off and I stayed behind, happy to have him to myself so we could talk uninterrupted by brat siblings or parental inquisitiveness. A relief, to be totally honest. I had a lot of questions.
Grey Antelope gave me far more than I ever imagined possible that day. He gave me the core of himself. He taught me things I have held true to since the moment he uttered them to me. The kind of truths that make each day a gift and an opportunity. I can never repay that depth of kindness he showed. I can only seek to pass it on for others in his name. The simple peace of his soul is even more of a miracle to me since he was able to pass it on. Not as religious doctrine, spiritual dogma or any other flavor you care to name as how organized religion seeks to impart its principle beliefs. Just as ideas and for me to decide for myself their validity or falseness. Nothing more. Gentle, caring and always with a smile that was infectious.
First, all things should come from the heart. Not as simple as it seems. The heart is a tempest swirling with conflicting cross currents and steep drops. But when you reach a certain stillness… it all comes together. You can analyze till the sun goes nova, but if you know something within the core of your heart, it is disaster to go against it. Always trust your heart. It is when you second-guess it that you start to go wrong.
Second, love is all. Again, simple but not. Anything that is born of actual love (not like, not envy, not guilt, not any semblance of love) can come to absolutely nothing. It may take years before you see the good that came of it. Or you might never understand it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Love brings balance to the universe. Never fail to love or to return it. Love is infinite with infinite possibilities.
Third, all religions were meant to work together for the good of all people. This one floored me. It took many years of thought and consideration before I could finally understand what he meant. Creator speaks to each individual in the way they need to hear. It is valid for that one person and no other. Each journey through this life can only be lived by the individual, so they must make the most of it that they can. This is also the source of my refusal to judge another. I haven’t lived their life and I haven’t had to make their choices, so how I can I dare to say I would have done differently or even could. Kind of simple, looked at that way, isn’t it?
Fourth, understand the value of this life. Not just your own, but anyone’s. Each soul is a universe of complexity and possibility. Compassion is the way to relate. Through compassion, we understand how we impact everyone and everything around us. We understand joy, love, caring, rage, futility, depression, and the entire range of emotion through our interactions with people and the entire world. Each is unique, but overlaps so that we can understand we are not utterly alone and without anyone else that can understand us. Empathy.
Fifth, laughter heals everything. No, he didn’t mean that entirely literally. Close though. Through laughter, the negative around us is made less. You can’t get rid of negativity entirely, remember, there has to be balance, but you can lessen its power in and over your life. Laughter, good gut wrenching honest laughter, changes everything. Fear is lessened and dispelled. Pain fades. Depression loses its grip. So on and so forth. Bring laughter to others and that is part of love.
Sixth, there is no wrong in creating and creativity. This one got me in trouble with Dancing Cloud. She tried to teach a lesson that wasn’t mine to have involving my feathers and the beadwork that went into them. See, you bead your prayers onto the quill shaft. Always, traditionally, your guide will have you do the beadwork and then take it apart as being incorrect. I refused. No one was going to tell me that those prayers were wrong. That the work was less than it should have been. I went to the mountain with the beadwork I defended tooth and nail. Grey Antelope’s lesson was stronger and ultimately, true for me.
There is more he gave me, but these are the profound foundations that have influenced me to this day. I can find no flaw in any of them individually nor combined. These are truths that sustain me. They have given me support through trial after trial, event after event in my life. This gentle loving soul gave me the universe in one afternoon. I am forever grateful for the events that led me to him.
He gave me some things for my Vision Quests. Items for leaving on the mountain. One of the required feathers. And his blessing. These all sustained me immeasurably during those difficult days of fasting and prayer. His words live on within me and I hope they bring the things he taught further into the world by my actions, past and present.
I saw him one last time about 2 years later. I took Courtlen with me, one of the boys I was taking care of at the time. Grey Antelope was again at Willie Dancing Cloud’s home performing another Dance. Courtlen was shy but fascinated with the proceedings. I am glad he got to meet Grey Antelope, though I doubt he really remembers much about it. He was so little at the time.
Grey Antelope took his culture’s dances all over the world. He danced in Germany, all over the continental United States, Hawaii, Brazil, anywhere that he could reach. His teachings went with him, passed to all of his ‘children’ regardless of race or ethnicity. He felt that the teachings and traditions belonged to all, not just those on the reservation. His Elders felt differently though.
The Elders decided that enough was enough. They grounded Grey Antelope, telling him that he could no longer perform the Dances away from the reservation. That the teachings must stay as well. His heart broke. Grey Antelope died the following year. Once he could no longer dance around the world and was forced to stay at home, his broken heart could take no more.
The news of his passing devastated me. I cried for days. Then I laughed. I had dreamed about him. In the dream, he scolded me for not laughing, as I should. That my heart would heal from laughter and would heal the world. So knock off the silly tears and get out there and do the work. He handed me a turtle shell rattle in the dream and told me to go shake it for all I was worth. And I did. You know what? I woke up laughing.
It has been good to write about this gentle and loving man. To share him with others, from my perspective. My experiences through the years are tempered by the things he taught me. I am comfortable in my own skin and within my mind and my heart and soul because of the tools he gave me. Countless people have been affected because of what he shared with me and others. I can only hope that I never lose the path he set me on. It is an easy road, most days. A soul could do far worse, of that I have no doubt whatsoever.
Others have influenced me, this I do know. But this one special man I think more so than any other. And in such an infinitesimally short amount of time, with so little true contact. He gave me a world view that I could do worse than to follow. I am grateful to have known him. And I am grateful to share him with others.