The Native American Poets Part One: Lore of the Ancestors
America’s indigenous people from Alaska to South America were deeply connected to the animals and the land and would sit around the evening campfires at night to weave their myths and folklore in song, chants, and dance in the oral tradition, as other ancient peoples, But the difference between folklore and myth was that were their folklore were tales about natural and supernatural beings that existed “after the people came”, a lot like European fairy-like creatures or the leprechauns of Ireland. Myths on the other hand were the creation stories that transpired “before the people came” often involving deified animals such as the bald eagle the deified chief of all animals, who made man out of a little lump of clay and woman out of one of his own feathers while the man slept or the water beetle that dived to the bottom of the ocean and made the land out of the mud that he found there. The Native American storytellers would often thusly personify the animals with human and divine characteristics The Cherokee also believed that the earth was a vast, flat piece of land floating on the surface of the sea and being held to the sky dome by four cords with one being in each corner of the world.
In folklore it was the Trickster who was often the chief character in a story who, much like our Batman’s Joker, was mischievous, amoral, evil being, with a warped sense of humor, that would throw a monkey wrench into the affairs of men. This supernatural creature would often be in the middle of the act of being between human and animal so that one would never know quite what he was, hence he was known as the Trickster!
Later on in history, after the missionaries came, Native Americans began to write prayers to the Great Spirit that still reflect their deep connection to the things of nature such as animals, and and sky, and their poetry- prayers was both simple and profound, and they are so beautiful and deeply spiritual I thought I would share with you all the prayers that I found.
I Give You This One Thought
I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still – I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone –
I am with you still – in each new dawn.
The Warm Winds
May the warm winds of heaven blow gently on your house, and may the great spirit bless all who enter.
May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder.
Traditional Navajo Prayer
Now I walk in beauty,
beauty is before me,
beauty is behind me,
above and below me.
Great Spirit Prayer
“Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have
made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.
Help me to remain calm and strong in
the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act
with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without
empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy Myself. Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.
A Prayer for Healing
Mother, sing me a song
That will ease my pain,
Mend broken bones,
Bring wholeness again.
Catch my babies
When they are born,
Sing my death song,
Teach me how to mourn.
Show me the Medicine
Of the healing herbs,
The value of spirit,
The way I can serve.
Mother, heal my heart
So that I can see
The gifts of yours
That can live through me.
Sioux Indian Prayer
Hear me, four quarters of the world– a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth. Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds. Great Spirit…all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet. This is my prayer’ hear me!
Next week I will be posting about Native American Wise Poets of the Present and the modern day poetry Renaissance in the Native American community. This is the first in a two part series.