Compiled by Ayo (William H. Michael), 1980, with the help of Tempunvyv, Vnope and Nayokv
"Poised in the Portal"
People of Pine Arbor Tribal Town have a difficult road to travel. One side is modern America. On the other, ways brought down from the Elders. Pine Arbor preserves old teachings--immense respect for life and the profound relationship of all things. The people mold these into a perspective that allows them to survive in today's world. Who can ignore televisions, automobiles, threats of global holocaust or computer regulated reality? Not everything ancient is accepted because Elders said and did things in certain ways. Ancient Elders' understandings were often imperfect. Consequently, some ancient practices die out; they are no longer needed or appropriate. Not everything modern is accepted either just because other people accept it. At times, this lesson has been difficult, but Pine Arbor people have learned to pick and utilize what serves them, not what they must serve. Gently, they tread the road that divides two worlds, ancient and modern.
Ceremonies serve as guides and interpreters--road maps of life. They mark boundaries of existence and experience and provide models for interactions with each other and the outside world. Ceremonies meet many different needs. They change--not day to day or year to year, but over the flow of years, as needs, thoughts or understandings of participants change and grow. Ceremony is a living entity, a being with its own ways. Like any living thing, it is capable of growth, change, decay and even death. Ceremonies, as living beings, must travel the Fourfold Path of Life as do all living things: Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age. Collectively, the entire year is treated as a larger ceremony. Years are divided into two parts--Summer and Winter, called working and resting seasons. In Summer are the awake ceremonies; in Winter are the sleeping or resting ceremonies. Summer gatherings are community oriented and therefore public. They take place at Square Grounds which are often just called the Square. The Pine Arbor Square is a large circular clearing surrounded by a shell ring.
It is centered around the Sacred Fire mound; four brush covered arbors mark the cardinal directions. The "Ball Play" is just to the west of the Square. In the NW corner rests the "Bird Mound." In addition to the public summer ceremonies, there are private ceremonies that belong to or are practiced by individuals, clans or families; they take place as needed with only appropriate participants attending.
Summer gatherings consist of four major ceremonies interspersed with minor social and workday gatherings. All major ceremonies take place at the Square Ground and are centered around the Sacred Fire believed to represent both the heart of their existence and Deity. This Fire, the Earthly symbolic embodiment of One Above, is the true host at a Square. Pine Arbor's four main ceremonies mark and reflect life's four stages as they are experienced by all living things: an individual, a community, the Sacred Fire and even the Earth. Therefore, in Muskogee logic, the ceremonial year has its beginning with the Sacred Fire's new birth annually at the Green Corn Busks. All Summer ceremonies follow the same general structure with minor variations in form based on particular seasonal needs or emphasis deemed appropriate by the ceremonial leadership. The following brief discussion applies to all Summer ceremonies, with specific insights into individual gatherings.
Ceremonies now last about three to four days each for most of the community. Individuals with specific ceremonial functions are required to fast and undergo other private preparations for a period of four to twenty days before approaching the Square. Ceremonies are held the weekend nearest the seasonal New Moon to accommodate those who must travel far to attend nowadays. Originally, ceremonies occurred at the actual time of the New Moon. With all ceremonies, Thursday and Friday are gathering days. Family camps are set up, foods prepared, ball games held, ceremonial objects readied and friendships renewed with those who have come from afar. Gradually, people make the awesome transition from everyday life to the time-frame of a Square Ground where time moves much as it did hundreds of years ago according to Elders. Anthropologists who have visited Pine Arbor and are familiar with literature about ancient times and practices always note a different type of time. Participants consider any time spent at a Square as sacred time. This time moves differently than modern time in everyday life. Its movement is not linear but cyclical.
At all ceremonies, a major event is the fast. The community grows together by fasting in unison. The individual is disciplined into re-acquainting with her or his inner self by fasting--one fasts to conquer body and mind. People dance. Several dances, danced several ways, provide endless variety. Footsteps dance downward into Mother Earth in unison; the community of believers moves as one body nursing at Mother Earth's breast. Individual showy stuff of pow wows is unwelcome behavior among these "Children of the Fire" who seek oneness with Earth, not escape from it. All touch "Medicine" made from herbal plants given by Mother Earth. People feel that if the Earth is made from One Above, source of all things, then within Earth are things special to One Above. These special things with their preventive and healing properties are contained in "Medicine." It is one's own physician-philosopher on call internally to maintain one's spiritual, mental and physical health!
Fasting, dancing, and touching "Medicine" is followed by being ceremonially "scratched." This returns to Mother Earth a portion of own's body which She has nourished. The people hold that their blood is the only valuable thing they own; they freely give it. Scratching, held to be beneficial, purifies the body and strengthens the people. It promotes endurance and general health--it is always considered a "preventive" measure rather than a "curative" act. Most of all, it is communion with Mother Earth, One Above and the community, a recognition of all they share. Many Women note drops of blood always precede or accompany the inflow of Sacred Power. For men, could this ceremonial scratching with gar teeth or other needle-like implements be a form of communal male menses? Does shed blood signal purification? Are men now able to receive an infilling of Sacred Power--such life-giving or sustaining Power as Women possess? Some think so. (When ceremonial leaders or a group of men step inside the circular shell midden ring marking the boundaries of the Square Grounds, their female nature surfaces, a transformationalism of sorts.) Before and after scratching, "White Drink" (called Black Drink by anthropologists) is taken which cleanses both actually and symbolically. Through these actions all are purified, cleansed, and brought together in unity and oneness, that is, wholeness with Creator, the Source. With all now capable with Power, all may now safely peer through the "portal." In culmination, the community feasts, a great feast of Earth fruits. In thanksgiving for all that is and will be, the feast is first shared in portion with the Sacred Fire, center of all these activities and visible heart of the community.
Prior to breaking the fast, there is a strict separation between the sexes. As One Above is to Earth, so Women are to the Square, a model of earth; males represent creation. Women are Co-Creators with One Above, Source of nourishment. Through their ceremonial camp-keeping and cooking activities, Women do for men and children as One Above does for all things. Square Ground activities mirror Sacred Cosmic Order. Women also protect men by their separation. Uncleanliness is not implied but only a danger for men incapable of a brush with Creative Power as it flows through Women.
The year begins by igniting a New Fire at Green Corn. The Old Fire is allowed to expire, that is, enter the sleep that follows life, on the ceremony eve. Into the old Fire is placed all that hurts and plagues them from the past year. They must attend the building of the New Fire with a clean heart, a clean mind, a cleansed body and a pure spirit. This Fire is an infant; it must be cared for as such. The people are the parents of the infant Fire and must tend and feed it carefully, lovingly. The behavior of community members present toward the new Green Corn Fire sets the tone of its character for the year to come. As parents, they can raise a good child or a bad one. As Keepers of the Flame the whole community in large part authors its own future and determines the quality of its relationship with One Above and Power. Strengthened or weakened, the people are responsible: they make their own future.
Green Corn is associated first with the East and secondly with the South. Men of the South Arbor, which represents growing and learning, take the lead. East governs, that is, influences Life, Light, Wisdom and Knowledge; all are necessary for growth. Green Corn is where learning begins. Its emphasis is on the individual setting all things right in one's life. The date for Green Corn is the New Moon when the milk is in the first corn ripening on the stalks. Some Squares set their ceremonial date to fall on the Full Moon. Following Green Corn by two new Moons is Little Green Corn, recently called the Cold Busk. The Fire is now older. It is full of exuberance, strong and playful, like all things are in their youth. At this stage, the Fire does not require as much attention as it did in its infancy, but it seems to require more wood. In this growing stage, like all youth, the Fire requires much nourishment. Yet, it is also old enough and strong enough to return companionship, albeit sometimes playful. All refer to this Fire as brother or sister and consider each other as equals. Little Green Corn is the "coming together" of community in harmony and the growing of things together. It is associated primarily with the South and is often like an organized community carnival, a time to visit the Fire, to sit reverently at it, to learn, work, study, and play together. Each individual set things right at Green Corn. Now, dynamics are group oriented.
At Harvest Dance, the matured Fire is strong and wise. Now considered our guardian parent, it cares for us. At this Fire all pay great attention to formal detail. Harvest is associated with the West which governs aspects of communal spirituality, reverence, holiness and life's end. It is a time of prophecy. Long periods of silence and inward quietness are required in order to hear Its voice. The Fire's prophecy can be given individually to one ready to receive it. It may also be given formally through those associated with the West Arbor. Some years, public prophecy is not given. The Harvest Fire is also a mirror from which one's self is reflected. Harvest takes place at the New Moon on or immediately after first frost. This is a time of preparation for winter, both internally and externally. Harvest is considered to be the oldest and most important ceremony of the year: maturity is the most fruitful time in one's life. "Cry Time" is a closure feature, a public mourning at Harvest, when stars become Campfires of the Departed.
After Winter's long quietness, people gather for the Berry and Arbor Dance which occurs in early Spring. Great attention is paid to setting the date for this ceremony often just called Berry Dance. Many things are considered: weather, ground temperature and which trees are budding. Some trees consulted are sweet gum, dogwood, bay or magnolia, pecan, mulberry, and willow. Berry Dance is celebrated at the New Moon after last frost. The cry "Winter's back is broken" announces the feast held at Berry. This ceremony is associated with the North, the direction of Winter which governs or influences aspects of individual life expressed physically: courage, strength, patience and endurance.
Berry is almost the end of the year. The Berry Fire is now considered to be an Elder, a grandmother or grandfather to the community. It is wise but very weak due to its age and for having borne the collective burdens of the people through the long Winter. All have an obligation to tend this Fire carefully. Old age is a sort of second infancy. It must be treated tenderly. Dry, easy-to-burn wood is fed to the Elder Fire. It mustn't expend too much energy or work too hard. Berry's Fire has earned love and gained experience. This Elder deserves gentleness, quietness and respect--it has much to teach and we much to learn. Berry is a time of gardens and preparation. If planting has not already been done, it is accomplished now. Even though Berry is near the end of the year, seeds are already being planted to pave the way for next year's crop, both internally and externally. Ceremonial life is a circle, too. Seed transcends the seasons; clan and family overlap the generations of life. In this way, People of Pine Arbor Tribal Town experience the whole cycle of life in the ceremonial year. Birth, growth, maturity, death--all are experienced. These overlap in such a fashion that one is taught that balance and harmony exists throughout the cosmos. An internal balance and harmony reflected through the seasons by the ceremonial round is learned, too. Nenē Mvskokē, The Muskogee Road!