I am the consummate perpetual student; I love being in school. I can argue incessantly, read voraciously and extrapolate indefinitely. I have a bachelor’s degree in English, cum laude, and a doctorate in Law. I undertook additional studies in psychology at Cleveland State and Antioch. Adding in grades K through 12, I have an aggregate 25 years of schooling. I have thoroughly enjoyed my mind-expanding studies, yet none of it compares to the knowledge gained in the spiritual journey.

Spiritual wisdom is the only knowledge worth having. To arrive at that kind of awareness, I chose the natural path. Some use psychotropic plants as their passport for travel, but I prefer that everything be natural. In that way, I can be assured my dreams and visions are true and unmediated, rather than simply induced. There are plenty of mind-expanding plants extant, and tons of shamanic practitioners on the web ready to guide students in their use.

I harbor no judgments about them, except where my own self-preservation is concerned. I am certainly no “plant prude.” I experimented as well as the next, having arrived at collegiate life right smack in the tail end of the psychedelic era. I admit to having had a brief stint with cannabis and an ill-fated peyote experience with a slightly wicked Road Man. Each proffered its share of colorful dreams and visions, but neither contributed in a lasting way to my attaining useful realizations.

Fasting upon the hill, dancing at the sundance, going in the sweat, smoking the sacred pipe, and singing with a drum or rattle are my natural chariots. All of these tools of Native spiritual culture are completely natural: we still retain absolute free will and authority over our life’s direction while engaging them.

People think that they go on fasts to receive visions. Cedric’s maternal great grandmother wisely taught that people don’t expect to receive visions. We pray, we cry, we sacrifice; and if we do receive a vision from the Spirits, we are immensely grateful.

At the sundance, there is the common misconception that people pierce as self-torture or to prove machismo; neither pertains. Cedric generously shared with me that, among the Mandans at least, a man or woman has a dream of piercing and follows that dream. Piercing is an offering to the Spirits for their help and guidance.

As Cedric explains in his book Mandan Dreams, we have only two things that are truly ours to give: our flesh, and our time in prayer. Everything else is an acquisition, something not authentically ours from the beginning.

The sweatlodge ceremony is, likewise, both transformational and natural. All of life is represented by the sweatlodge, Cedric teaches. Its frame is willow saplings, so trees are involved. We heat rocks, place them inside, and pour water over them, creating healing steam; thus, earth, water, air and fire are represented. We place sage inside of the lodge, pour water with a gourd dipper and place flat cedar on the rocks, so plants are used. Drums and rattles are made of hides, and in ancient times, buffalo hides covered the sweatlodges, so animals were incorporated. We sing certain sacred songs, and the Spirits hear our prayers and offer their guidance.

When we emerge from the steaming lodge into the night air, the stars look blue and brilliant. Sometimes we lie on the fresh green grass, grounding ourselves with help from the Earth. The feeling afterwards is like being made new. We feel recentered, refocused, cleansed of impurities on an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual level. We share the sacred pipe afterward, using natural, untreated tobacco, taking in the smoke and offering silent prayers to the Creator. The level of connection is ineffable.

These sacred ceremonies and their components are, in a sense, merely tools, Cedric has explained to me. In the beginning, we are fragile in our incipient steps upon the spiritual path. We need the props to support us. Eventually, we arrive at the realization that we do not really need accoutrements in order to be spiritual beings; we can connect on our own juice. It is our own hearts — unmediated by substance or situation –that guide us home.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., is a ceremonial singer who has learned over 60 traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota and sings in nine different languages. Janet was a full-time defense litigator in California for nearly eight years. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. A regular columnist for The Edge, she has also appeared in Psychic Guidepost, FATE Magazine and Species Link. Her book, Song of the Wind (2014, Galde Press), dealt with her experiences as an empath, and her journey through Mandan spiritual culture. She is currently a full-time, tenured English faculty member at Normandale Community College, having taught Composition and Literature for a span of 20 years.

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