Sacred Dances Meet Vital Needs of the Community by Ghost Dancer
DYNAMIC SOUTHEASTERN CREEK INDIAN DANCES – Part III
As we have said our people have dances for every event and need of importance. We dance for healing, creating, blessing, or to ask for something. We dance for help to live better lives, and we dance to help our loved ones take their final journey when this life is over.
Usually the Bear Dances are conducted and overseen by the Bear Clan. The origins of this dance relate to a transformation we must live each day. From rising up before the Grandmother Sun shows her face, we are as a baby, we are new with a new day before us. We are happy as a child is supposed to be, seeing the wonder and magic of the world. Whatever transpired yesterday is over and gone forever. Today we dance of beauty and love.
The Bear Dance is also used in ceremonies of purification, seeking visions, healing for injured or sick ones, and to seek something lost. In step with a slow drum beat, the dancer begins dancing like a baby bear, first standing on its back legs with paws lifted upward. Baby bear looks towards Grandmother Sun and begins spinning around and around, slowly at first. Then as the drum starts to beat faster, the bear grows and into an adolescent. He dances a little faster and stands a little taller, still spinning around and around. The drum picks up speed again and the bear now becomes an adult, standing tall and dancing even faster, around and around. Now the drum beats faster and faster and the bear spins until it becomes a blur, around and around until it becomes an elder. Now the key here is that the dancer is visualizing this progression he creates the energy needed for whatever purpose the dance is being done.
Another Bear Dance seeks the knowledge and power of the bear. The bear is known for its knowledge of all plants. Those who seek to know the plants dance to call forth the bear spirit. First the dancer must present an offering, such as fish, honey, berries, or grubs for the bear. The dancer usually wears a bear robe and paints bear tracks on their body, all leading to the dancer’s mind and heart. The drummer beats a tempo to the walking gait of a bear while the dancer visualizes and mimics the bear’s gait as he looks for plants, sniffing, pawing up the ground. The dancer visualizes the bear spirit coming into his body and becoming one with him. Now the dancer begins singing a Bear Song, thanking the bear for its gift. Bear medicine is a gift that healers always seek as well as a person who finds things that are lost or hidden from view.
(Note: The Bear Clan also has its own clan dance just for members.)
The Deer Dance also has several different versions for different purposes. And usually these dances are conducted and overseen by the Deer Clan. The first Deer Dance is for the honor we give to the Deer People for the sacrifice of their lives for our need for food, clothing, tools and other things we need. This dance is done before a deer hunt begins. After days of fasting, and prayer, offerings of gifts, such as maize, acorns, clover, melons, and berries are made to the Deer People. The dancers paint deer tracks all over their bodies, put on deerskin robes, and adorn themselves with deer hoofs and even the antlers. They begin dancing while they dream of deer. Visualizing the deer in their minds, the dancer’s feet mimic the walking gait of the deer. The drum and rattles all sound a steady heartbeat as the dancers mimic the deer’s movements of grazing, stopping, stomping their hooves, raising their heads up to look and see around them.
The dancer’s now see themselves as the deer and begin singing the deer song, telling of the honor and respect the people have for them. They sing that the people love the Deer People and ask them to help us for we need them to survive. They sing that in honor we will always remember the deer in our prayers, and offer the first meat of their bodies to the sacred fire, so the essence of their spirit shall rise up to be in the stars, always looking down to watch us. The dancers now begin prancing like the deer as they visualize how happy the Deer People are. The next day the hunters will go to where their dreams showed the deer would be waiting for them.
The second Deer Dance is for gaining wisdom and knowledge, to always be alert and watching over the people. This dance begins as the first one did, with the dancers all painted and wearing the deer skin robes with the fasting, prayers, and offerings. See. to the people, the deer represent nobility. They look out always for their herd; they are gentle and love having fun. The deer never like confrontations with others, but will fight if cornered or forced to. The bucks only fight during rut to ensure that the females are bred by the strongest, so the young will be strong and healthy.
So, this dance is like the first, with the dancers visualizing these characteristics of the deer. The drum and rattle keep a steady rhythm, and the dancers are so fluid in their movements that you see the deer as a herd moving together in body and spirit. The deer prayer song is sung as the dancers call the deer spirit to come into their hearts and minds so that they become one. Faster and faster the drum beats as the dancers leap higher and higher in the air as a deer jumps when it is running. The dancers stay in rhythm with the drum, and the people all shout their joy.
Most of us have heard of the Ghost Dance started by the Paiute spiritual leader, Wovoka, in the late 1880’s, but little is known about the Ghost Dances many tribes already had. Such was the case here in the Southeast and the Creeks, too, had a Ghost Dance. Among the various groups, these dances are unique and different in many ways, so please be respectful of the ways of different Peoples.
In the old times, among the Creeks, the Ghost Dance was an integral part of the last rites for the dead. The purpose of the Ghost Dance is to help the spirit of the departed one and the loved ones of the departed, to come into balance in this transition of life. Only certain people were allowed to touch and prepare a body for burial and only certain people were allowed to dance the Ghost Dance. Our burial rituals are sacred so I won’t go into detail. I will only speak on that subject in person when I know the person I am speaking with.
Now once the body has been prepared, the Ghost Dancers come into the square yard of the town. The drummers keep the rhythm of the dance as a double beat. This means the dancers are dancing side to side as in a round dance. The dancer’s bodies are covered in ashes from the sacred fire marked with the signs and symbols of the different moon cycles. The morning star on the chest is symbolic of a comet or shooting star. These markings symbolize the departed spirit’s transformation to travel back to the stars from which it came: The southern lights, as some call the Seven Sisters (Pleiades). In their hands, each of the dancers holds a branch of the cedar tree in one and corn pollen in the other. Each time they dance around the body they brush it with the cedar and sprinkle it with corn pollen. Then at least one of the relatives places a leaf of tobacco on each side.
The dancers suddenly change pace and rush the body screaming honor whoops then dance away and continue the sideways dance, until they once again change pace and rush the body and scream love shouts. Then they dance away and continue the sideways dance. The dancers do this seven times for each of the seven directions: the major four being east, south, west and north, then below and above, and finally, within. Once this is done, the body is lifted up on its robe and the Ghost Dancers sing and dance all around it and beneath it, severing the spirit’s ties to this place at this time, enabling the spirit to freely travel on, led by the Little People who always come and guide them. Everyone sings happy songs now for we know the spirit is returning home and will be back again soon all brand new.
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