As each year went by, and the family became a bit more splintered, I witnessed much loss of tradition.
At my first Sundance all of the family members worked in unison–as I had witnessed in the Yuwipi Ceremonies–to get the specifics down as they had been passed on to them. Each successive Sundance–as Godfrey was unable to be present and took Unci with him, and then Phillip was killed in a car crash–seemed to have lost so many of the details that I had once thought were essential. Without many voices to guide me in the part that I was called on to play, I found myself learning to focus my intent on others, open my heart, and beckon the Spirit of Woptura to be present, even if I didn’t have the words and had lost many of the details of the Sundance itself.
Spirit never ceased to appear at Sundance. It never ceased to affect the people. Regardless of the traditions and subtleties lost. The miracles never stopped. One individual came to dance with infected abscesses on his feet. His foot was turning black, over-the-borderline gangrenous. I lobbied long and hard for him to go to the hospital in Rapid City. He ignored me. He prayed hard and was able to walk by Tree Day, and then went on to complete the Dance, during which time his foot completely healed. I’m talking no scars!
There was something going on there that seemed to go beyond the words, the songs, the nuts and bolts of the rituals; as if just knowing the essence of the Spirit he was calling in was enough. It wasn’t that particular Sundance that cured him, it was his intent to dance “so that the people may live,” strengthened by the intent of the others around him for the same thing.
Not too long after my last Sundance on Pine Ridge, and shortly after Unci blessed my Cannunpa — a pipe I had taken a year to make myself as I was instructed — I started doing prayer circles. I was full of myself. Impressed by my own knowledge, there was an element that I soon had to come to terms with that was living inside of me.
I wanted those people involved with me to know and experience how adept I was with what I was taught by the family. I came to recognize that my intent was geared toward making me look good. I began by using some prayers in Lakota that I had learned in the Yuwipi Ceremony. In one of them, I called on Inktomi (Ick-tomi), the Spider. Big mistake!
What followed was four days of what some would call psycho-kinetic phenomena: objects around me would spontaneously break, I experienced raindrops in sealed rooms, fire alarms would go off around me for no reason, even a computer started to spew out messages on its screen that were absolutely hauntingly specific to the people I was with; mean-spirited, isolated sentences dredged out from some deeply buried memory banks that supposedly had been erased by the prior owner. And those were just the outer phenomena!
At the same time, I was completely drunk with a feeling of power. But the cost was astronomical. I felt an uncomfortable presence about me, sometimes trying to get in me and stay. I literally felt hounded by the Spirits, as if the emotions of specific personalities would pass through me. I would suddenly find myself collapsing in abject fear, hilarious laughter, or hopeless tears, knowing full well, it had nothing to do with what I, myself, was experiencing in the moment.
I had crossed over into a lineage of spirits I really knew nothing about. My world had gone berserk. Nothing I had ever experienced in my life remotely resembled this. To be honest, I didn’t even believe that such things happened.
I contacted the family, now back at Pine Ridge, and was told that Inktomi was only to be called upon by an experienced Wicasa Wakan (wi-cha-sha wa-con), Holy Man, for its medicine is so strong and unruly that only a person so trained and pure could handle it. It is Inktomi that is called upon during Yuwipi Ceremonies. I was in way over my head.
My only recourse was to return to the Cannunpa, even though I was scared to death of it. I prayed with it for help to undo what I had done. I did so more humbly than I had approached anything in my life. More than anything else, I was in fear that the people with whom I had done ceremony had been harmed. I had no idea what I had unleashed and upon whom.
In the final analysis, I had taken the incredible gifts I was offered by the family casually. For every action there is a reaction, and this white man had taken what was not his out of the context of its caretakers and tried to do with it what they do with it. No, it simply doesn’t work that way, and the balance is struck within the context of the traditions that are violated, NOT in terms or experiences that make sense to the interloper.
After four days of parayer, the phenomena ceased. I came to realize that even separate from what I knew, separate from what I understood; there was a distinct Spirit that I called on that manifested in ways I could never have imagined. I had done things in a certain way and certain things had happened!
What I had also done was misuse my intent within the context of a Sacred Ceremony. I laid down my Cannunpa for years, and only picked it up again when I was willing to stake all I am and all I own on use of it for others, not myself.
For more information regarding sacred ceremony, refer to Yuwipi by William K. Powers, University of Nebraska Press, 1982.