The People of Pine Arbor View
POWER, THE FORCE OF LIFE
This is a difficult essay to read and understand but it is well worth the effort. Originally suggested in 1978 by Dorothy McIntyre, a Cheyenne, Michael Sawyer an anthropologist and Breck Parkman, an archeologist, it was complied and edited from the notes, tapes and papers of Mark Cummings and C. Randall Daniels-Sakim by Charles Simpson and William Michaels in the early 1980s.
"Power, best expressed and understood through ceremony and ritual, is Geographically Specific, Watch water, winds and smoke... Power always moves in a circle!"
In nature, the spiral is the verb of Power
Native American cosmology and worldviews often confuse those raised in other traditions, especially if their traditions hold erroneous or stereotypical views about Native Americans. For generations, countless statements about Native American concepts have been offered up to the public or put forth in print and declared to be the heart of things Indian.
Seldom have such statements approached accuracy simply because no one statement fits all—neither regions, nations or individuals. This is not to say that common threads do not exist, they do. However, a few threads do not make the whole garment of a culture or a belief system.
Nevertheless, one thread or idea with wide play throughout the Americas is that of Power. If one statement could be declared basal, it would concern ideas of Power. This is particularly true for the people of historic Pine Arbor Tribal Town. For them, Power and ideas about Power are
the heart of things Muskogee. Expressions of Power and all their associated ideas must be understood to comprehend Pine Arbor's uniqueness; this is no easy task. To facilitate this difficult task and to state briefly what is purported to be so, let us momentarily engage in the very thing Pine Arbor and other Native American communities rail against, namely, judgmental statements and unintentional half-truths. Vague generalities based on accurate statements widely held but inappropriately applied out of context will serve as our example. Next, we define Power using Native Americans' own perspectives and examples. Lastly, an understanding of Power, its function and application in the life of the Pine Arbor community will be discussed. To set forth a clearer understanding of Power, its aspects and role accepted by surviving southeastern ceremonial communities in Florida and Oklahoma is no easy task. It is neither our desire nor within our abilities to decide who knows more, Native Americans or others. Native Americans, by some, are characterized as savages, child-like primitives or wild men incapable of thought who lived their lives by instinct, some practical knowledge, and silly superstitions prior to European contact. This is an absurd image. Traditions and teachings of Native Americans developed over several thousand years of careful minute attention to every aspect and detail of the natural world around and inward world within. In fact, new worldviews continue to unfold and develop. All cultures continue to develop, stagnate, grow or regress. Readjustment is natural. Cultures and organisms, life at all levels, follow similar patterns. Forebears of Native Americans are the equal of philosophers and saints of European, Asian or other traditions, in subtlety, profundity and wholeness of thought. The primitive-civilized distinction takes too much for granted; it cannot serve as a framework for exploration of profound differences or similarities between Native American and other people's thought. One could argue strongly that there is no such thing as European thought. Examples offered may include John Hus, a Czech, and a priest named Martin Luther or kings and peasants. Even a brief study would discover great diversity in European experience over countless generations, many extolled, many not. Eventually, it would be decided certain subtleties and characteristics do allow one to name something as being European and not Asian, African or of some other cultural or regional designation. Precisely our point; Native Americans possess great diversity, too. Diversity nearly made extinct in the minds of non Native Americans by too many movies, novels and erroneous folklore. Early Europeans were unable to grasp the diversity of Native American cultures. These diverse Native American cultures cannot be summarized in a few pages just as one cannot summarize 2000 years of European culture in a few pages either. The European mind arrived on these shores with its own preset categories
: religion, science, philosophy, ceremony, ritual, customs, kinship, government and the like; each was distinguished from the other. Although these cultural slots were all interactive to some extent, they were not an integrated whole. More often than not, they reacted to each other rather than with each other. This was incomprehensible to Native Americans. Europeans seemed unable to grasp all-pervasive Power, a concept intimate with most Native Americans. Europeans deified and divided Power, which was distributed only to those who selected conformity. Divisions such as animate or inanimate, life or death, moral or immoral, royal or common, sacred or profane had a narrow focus in the European mind, a focus so narrow that Europeans were only able to recognize a limited range of "Beings"--namely people and angels. In fact, many Europeans did not accept Native Americans as human beings! Europeans did not recognize natural balance and harmony. They divided everything and believed themselves divinely ordained to overthrow nature. At the heart of the Muskogee Way and most Native American societies, is an acknowledgement and acceptance of an indivisible all-pervasive Power. Native American divisions were anything but narrow and rigid. One inevitably finds the necessary mechanisms for escaping even these broad interactive categories best describe as fluidic. In Europe, individual freedom was limited; community frequently curtailed it. Native American personal freedom enjoyed support within the context of community. In Europe, Power was a distant abstraction individually deified. Native American Power was simultaneously more than a distant abstraction. It was both integral and could be experienced personally although Power, itself, is held to be impersonal. Though failures occurred, Native American societies strove to live in a harmonious balance integral with a universe filled with countless interacting "beings"--humans, pine trees, golden silk spiders, earthworms, ethereals, brown bears, rocks, foxes, blue jays, that is, all things having form, substance, purpose and place. As some would call it, things possessing "Will" or "Life." An eight-year-old Pine Arbor boy once stated out loud that rocks have a mighty powerful "will" because they stay still so long. "Will" or "Life," it is also called "Power," from French "pouvoir," "to be able." To have Power is to be able, to be capable, to live and will. Power is the Enabler of all things. Power's source, viewed symbolically, is the ordered Upper or Higher World and the disordered Lower World, worlds of energy, spirit but not physical matter. Power is without limit, form or individualizing characteristics. Power is the activator and enabling force of our solid Middle World. Humans exist in this Middle World sandwiched between Power's opposing natures--orderly and chaotic. Humans influence and are influenced by the flow or movement of Power, the [original] energy, animator or pure source--the deepest spiritual expression of Power. Another expression for Power is Innate Wisdom, that is, incorruptible thought, similar to genetic memory. Native America regards Power as sacred--sacredness itself. In addition, Native Americans have all seemed to regard Power as being a constant and always being in motion when it is active. Power is said by some to be bound up in a constant duality—cosmos and chaos, active and potential, or balance and imbalance. It is no accident that the plane of human existence is called The Middle World. To the people of Pine Arbor, Power is with all things. It is either potential or active but not simultaneously both. A particular being may or may not manifest or make full use of Power. An animal may possess only normal Power, its life, strength and instincts. Or, it may exhibit extraordinary measures of Power that sets it apart from others of its species. Native Americans consider things so set apart sacred. Sacred because they are dedicated and devoted to a singular purpose or use and therefore worthy of respect, reverence and veneration. A tree, a rock, a mountain are all actively or potentially Powerful. Thus, they are actively or potentially sacred. All things derive their being from within the sacred source, all of them--everything in what is now called "environment"--must be respected. They are each wise in ways, which we have yet to understand. Power is impersonal. That is the most important but difficult thread to understand. Power is without judgment but conscious. Humans can personalize power. Each woman and man can turn his or her heart toward the Source and be intimate with it. Humans create this intimacy; Power does not. Power is equal towards all things. Power personified flows forth and is called One Above, Creator. It can be perceived but has no personal perception beyond a consciousness of self-awareness and the will to exist. The human role is to seek out and support balance and harmony in all things. We, as any "being," may serve as vessels for portions or all of sustaining Power. Power defines Wisdom through natural law. Human life, inseparably interwoven with all other beings, is only one member of the whole community, all beings in the universe that is, itself, regarded as one whole body. As members of this whole body, humanity practices its religious rituals--events that direct or explain the flow of Power. Rituals prepare humanity for Power's inflow. Ritual allows humans to both perceive and receive Power from its source. What many call prayer can be seen as an imploration for Power, from a sacred, if not central, source, that sustains all beings. Ceremony and ritual provide humans and all beings with patterns. By such patterns they are capable of acquiring and using Power to influence or regenerate parts of the universe. A human community may, by its rituals, ask that sacred Power flow into it and bring it new life. Another function of ceremonies is housekeeping. Power flows through openings or cosmic portals such as a Square Ground or particular person. Such sacred or set apart places or people must be maintained in proper order, be free of physical or spiritual clutter and provisioned with those things needed to host Power. Ceremonies or rituals mark the boundaries and flow of Power and its activities. Rituals do not define Power or life as some assume but help define and establish effective rules for the use of Power. Holding this Power-based view of reality makes it natural that ceremony or ritual precedes the in filling, absorption, of Power. Many bird and animal beings observe courtship rituals prior to the coming of new life. Some view human intercourse as sacred ritual that opens the way for Power to flow and do the work of generating life. As such, it is not to be regarded lightly. Difficulties arise in trying to explain that this same Power, this sacredness which can dwell lovingly in the heart of an individual, is the same Power that may be misused by those whose hearts are impure--tuned to selfish means which can produce disharmony. Such Power is no longer sacred, no longer life giving. It has become perverted, destructive and life depriving. Women and men must strive always to keep their relations with all other beings in respectful balance. Morality is a relative degree of the beneficial use or corruption of Power. Thus, morality is a human responsibility because humans can use power. Its provenance is not the impersonal One Above, the Creator and Source. "Acquired, Ascribed or Using Power" are just ways of saying life (Ascribed or Innate Power) is sacred and in motion--Active Power in use. Flowing of sacred Power (motion, use) is the basic Native American value from which originates customs and moral intuitions. The aged are thought to be knowledgeable, wise and Powerful. Consequently they are treated with respect. Their longevity provides ample opportunity for exposure to, and absorption of, Power. Wisdom is born of experience. Virtues of honesty, (self) restraint, industriousness, etc., are not only necessary for proper use of Power but result from it. Such characteristics are necessary if one walks a sacred path such as Nene Mvskoke, the Muskogee Road. During times of life-crisis, such as birth, illness or even menstruation, Power, or its strength and effects, may be deceptive and thus dangerous. It may be too strong for some to endure, and thus, equally dangerous. At times like these, communities and individuals practice certain rituals to prevent harm, that is, they call forth rules of understanding and perceiving Power. Persons who are receivers of Power must act in a manner proper to Power. They must abide by certain time-hallowed and effectively proven mechanics to insure the sacred is not perverted or accidentally turned to destructive ends. The Native American woman, as do all women, has proof-positive that she has become Power filled. The women of Pine Arbor separate themselves at times of menstruation to protect those around them whom they love. Women, at this time, are Power-laden. They are simply filled to overflowing with an infusion of Power--not unclean in any manner.
Running 220 volts of electricity through 110volt wires will cause a power overload and an eventual meltdown. Modern Native Americans often use electricity as a micro-example of Power. Electricity is neither good nor bad. Only uses to which it is put produce good or destruction. Ceremony and ritual is to Power as wiring is to electricity. Improperly wired homes are doomed to destruction, immediate or eventual. Following this logic, one can see correlations between trained electricians and trained ceremonial leadership. Remember, Power is, itself, non-judgmental and impersonal. Power neither rewards nor punishes. Power does not purposefully change human condition. Some may say Power is non-directive or non-specific. It is the human misdirection or misuses of Power's partnership that wroughts destruction and harm. Power does not will it. Any Concept of Power explained through Anglo-European philosophies using inductive and deductive logic will suffer a great injustice. Power, as the concept, is best described as being omni-radial, fluidic and trans-immanent throughout the cosmos. Conversely, human-derived symbols representing conceptual understandings of Power are created using intuitive logic.
Humans are only one part of the Body Universe, dependent on other parts. They are not, themselves, the center of a World. The people of Pine Arbor recognize that their actions will affect other humans and all other things or beings--the animal nations, the plant nations and all sister and brother nations of every kind and species. Humans must not offend natural order, the innate Wisdom of Power. Restraint and respect are doors to joy and profundity of life. Humans are largely the authors of their own reward or punishment. Innate Wisdom or natural law may open a fault line, erupt a volcano or brew a storm; but that is another matter altogether--physical imperfection as a byproduct of Power's duality in fluctuation.
In summary, there are many important characteristics of Power: It is all encompassing, all-pervasive and permeates equally throughout the known universe, all its parts and even beyond. Power reacts toward, around, within and through all things equally in a level, unemotional manner characterized by steadiness. Power is self-preserving yet impersonal. It is without judgment, anger, forethought or partiality in any way except that which is expressed in the natural order of things, such as the selectivity of the strong over the weak or intellect over dumb muscle or bruteness. Power is impersonal because of inherent equality. Inequality is found only in the user. Some say "Power reacts (to human activity), it never acts. This may be so. Take note that positive or negative effects result from a thing or being interacting with Power. It is not Power that determines if effects of that interaction will result positively or negatively. It is the innate characteristic of the thing or being reacted to that decides a positive or negative outcome. Humans are the only creatures who are aware of their own innate character and who have the knowledge or ability to alter their innate characteristics. To Native Americans, innate character is central to all interactions with all things, especially Power. Impure containers contaminate. One use of ceremony and ritual is to alter innate character. It translates organized knowledge, needs, Power, knowledge about Power and the unknown into symbols. The symbols are then arranged according to the purpose at hand. Shamans organize an appropriate and meaningful set of behavioral activities expressed through ceremony and ritual to free "Power" from the paradigm of symbols. Like Power, symbols expressing Power remain constant. Their meanings are position-specific and ever changing as understandings of the grammar of Power changes. The Shaman's role is more than a Grammarian of Power. Shamans are also the Authors of that Grammar--they help us alter our understandings and ourselves in unimaginable ways. They are gatekeepers to a larger view. Some say this Power is One Above, symbolically called the Master of Breath, Creator, Ruler and Source. Others say that Power is not the Creator but merely an outflow from Creator who is beyond comprehension but not acceptance. There are also those who just say...Power is! Regardless of which view is held, Power is paramount to the people of Pine Arbor. Power is the heart of things Muskogee. Many symbolic representations of Power, such as the Sacred Fire, the Sun, Mother Earth, and others, are discussed throughout this work. In the ancient aboriginal past, throughout the present and even for the future, Power fueled and fuels human capability. Humans, as beings with choice and defining memory, use or misuse Power. Humans have "Ascribed Power," such as life from birth and certain innate abilities. From that, we make ourselves into what we are through "Using Power," that is, "Achieved Power." In the Muskogee World, the ceremonial life around the Sacred Fire focuses this partnership and enlightens the symbols. This understanding is the foundation of Pine Arbor Tribal Town's beliefs, ceremonials, cosmology and philosophy; it is the source of life—our source of life.