Song of the Sun Dance
By John Fire Lamedeer
I am standing
In a sacred way
At the earth’s center
Beheld by the people,
Seeing the tribe
Gathered around me.
The Thunderbird effigy dominates the logo. Among the created beings, the Thunderbird has the highest position. Able to soar closest to the Creator Spirit, Thunder Beings act as intermediaries between the Creator and Two-Leggeds, bringing messages to and from the Creator. When a person dies, they carry the soul to the Spirit World. Legends say burials were placed within the head or heart of the mound, the source of the spirit.
The eagle, symbol of the Thunderbird, is the highest clan totem among many nations. Those who are awarded an eagle feather have performed an outstanding deed; according to some traditions, women, because they give life, deserve eagle feathers. An Ojibwa metaphor teaches about marriage; one wing of the eagle is the man and the other the woman. Only together can they fly and soar.
Eagle feathers are awarded to combat veterans. They may then present eagle feathers to individuals they judge are an example of courage, dedication, and committed to the pursuit of a vision. Recipients of eagle feathers may wear them at all gatherings; in some traditions, receiving an eagle feather is a great honor while giving one away is an even higher honor.
*[Cosmology is the metaphysics of the universe as an ordered integration or whole; the way humanity perceives itself in relation to all other parts of the universe.]
At Pow Wows if an eagle feather should fall, the first veteran to see the fallen feather will dance over it till the dance is completed. Then the song of the brave is sung. When the ceremonial song is finished, the veteran picks up the feather and returns it to its owner. This is done to show and teach respect.
The Thunderbird effigy is centered in the logo, its heart in the center. To be centered is to be focused, in harmony. Its head is above, signifying good thoughts.
Positioned in the center, the effigy divides the circle into four quadrants. In the circle of harmony, four has many definitions. There are the four basic elements of creation: fire, water, earth, and air. There are four symbolic races: white, red, black, and yellow. There are four gifts of creation: human, animal, plant, and mineral.
There are four aspects to human nature: mental, spiritual, emotional, physical with four basic stages of development symbolized by seed, seedling, tree, and fruit. Individuals have body awareness, self-concept, self-esteem, and self-determination, and from birth, we develop through protection, nourishment, and growth toward wholeness.
Because the Thunderbird is composed of ninety degree angles, the effigy is thought to point to the sacred directions. To acquire true wisdom, one must journey around the medicine wheel as the sun travels around the earth, reflecting upon our needs, the qualities of humans, our gifts, and our values.
A path circles the effigy, indicating the dance of those who seek to live in harmony. They go around the interior of the circle. Since there are no footprints outside the circle of harmony, the dancers are united in their effort. The circle is unbroken, symbolizing connectedness, wholeness, and the interrelatedness of all beings.
The circular path represents the sun, the moon, eternity. Beyond the obvious, it represents being created from the earth and returning to it, the interconnectedness of life, the interdependence of created beings.
There are four rock cairns around the circle. Four is a sacred number. There are four seasons, four directions, four sacred colors, four basic elements of creation.
A person needs to journey around the medicine wheel to learn how to live. Since the sun is the source of life, the journey follows the path of the sun which rises in the east, the direction of new beginnings; each day is a new beginning, birth and rebirth. Light and wisdom, guidance and leadership come from the east. Symbols of the east are the noble eagle and the humble mouse, twin aspects of leadership.
The south is the place of the heart, where one learns sacrifice, sensitivity, and love for others. This is summer, youth, vigor, preparation for the future. It is the rose, soft, scented petals hiding piercing thorns. It is the cougar with highly tuned senses and graceful, conditioned body. It is the red flute willow, strong and flexible, survivor of fire, flood, drought, and winter.
In the west, where the sun sets, one learns about individual purpose and how to use power. This is the place of darkness, where fears are tested and the will is stretched. Here the black bear and turtle teach strength, spiritual insight, and perseverance through prayer, introspection, and meditation. In the west we learn to face ourselves and develop an inner life; self-acceptance is the greatest lesson of the west. Here there is silence and the centered are comfortable. Here there is respect. Here there is sacrifice and humility. Here we come to value the struggle to develop ourselves to our greatest potential. A gift of the west is a perspective on becoming human. Heroes emerge from the west.
When one journeys to the north, the place of wisdom, one learns how to serve and guide. This is the place of winter, white hair and white snow. The north is where one learns to think, speculate, predict and discriminate, solve problems, imagine, criticize and understand, analyze and calculate, organize, remember and interpret. Here is the place of fulfillment and completion where all things end, where one can learn to detach from hate, jealousy, desire, anger, and fear. In the north one lets go of everything, even knowledge, and stands apart in order to see. In the north, one arrives at the center point, uncontrolled by any outer elements. Here one realizes the need to continue seeking balance, justice, and peace. Here we learn the end is a beginning; the cycle continues; the journey is eternal.
But one cannot embark on any journey without being focused on here and now which is why there are rock cairns around the circle. These are ancient guides, searched for and seen from great distances. One must be fully in the present moment, alert and aware, to take notice of these guides which provide direction for the spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual worlds.
Every journey outward begins with a journey inward. This is the way the hero begins a journey. This is also the way of an adventurer, a navigator, a surveyor. It is essential to know where one is before entering the unknown, before developing and shaping potential qualities, before measuring. It is strange how measuring, the unknown, and potential can become related by a focal point.
There are four capacities of human development (rock piles) in the spiritual dimension–the internal reality. First is the ability to respond to dreams, visions, ideals, spiritual teachings, goals, and theories. The second is to do and become more than we currently are. The third is to express our internal realities in art, speech, or mathematics. The fourth is to guide our actions toward living our internal reality.
Each cairn is composed of six rocks. Six times four is twenty-four, the hours in the day. Ancients were able to calculate time by observing the position of star groups as they “dance” around the pole star at night. Although ancient Americans had their own star groups with descriptive names and legends, we can still understand how they calculated time by using Greek and Roman constellations.
The Big Dipper and Cassiopeia revolve around the Pole Star, and, in North America, never set. If one divides the circle around the Pole Star into 24 divisions of 15 degrees each, we can use these star groups (particularly the handle of the Big Dipper) as an “hour hand” to mark the passage of time. During the daylight, the sun moves parallel to the celestial equator at the same rate, providing a daytime clock.
The 15-degree twenty-four hour cycle is believed to be a Chinese invention. But ancients in this hemisphere could have made similar observations. It is known from oral tradition that they lived the sky–their life-ways and rituals were tuned to celestial movements. It is also known from their oral tradition, strangers always lived among them and they traveled to distant, foreign places. Perhaps ancient traders exchanged goods and knowledge; the same exchanges occur today and are accepted as a natural part of human activity.
Students of time have always observed time means change. All creation changes; the only changeless state is change, a pattern of life. Things develop or disintegrate, necessary and connected aspects of life. Both the seen and unseen worlds have patterns of life. It is essential to be observant of the laws which govern these cycles. Properly applying one’s self to the laws of the spiritual and physical worlds creates a balanced life. Change is essentially a law of physics: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Between each cairn there are seven points, cutting the circle into twenty-eight segments, the lunar cycle. Seven planets move across the twelve zodiacal divisions in the heavens, readily observable on clear nights; to develop the science, one only needs to maintain accurate logs. Seven days in a week and twelve months in a year seem to reflect the mathematical order of the heavens. By careful observation of time, one will acquire patience and develop commitment, essential traits to achieve a balanced life. Perhaps that is why ancient astronomers were priests, those who charted the paths of the stars and souls.
The Vedic scale, an ancient Hindu scale used in early Sanskrit psalms, chants, and sacred formulas for their doctrines and practices, is based upon the movements of the stars. There are seven notes to the Vedic scale; Woodland Indian flutes also have seven notes to their scale, and, according to legend, individuals who made their flutes learned to play their own songs by sitting alone and imitating the sounds of nature. Many cultures refer to the “music of the spheres,” indicating there is a harmony in the mathematical organization of the universe.
This cursory analysis of the symbolism of the society’s logo offers an introduction to Medicine Wheel/Circle of Harmony traditions. It is a tangible image of the integrated aspects of cosmic knowledge which are part of the ancient sites studied by AES. Metaphorically, it is a ritual dance where participants become attuned to the rhythms and vibrations of the galactic soul. A product of Robert Johnson’s dream, the AES logo provides a lifetime of reflective material.