SACRED HUNT / SACRED GIVEAWAY with Tanah Whitemore
published in Green Spirit Magazine, England
There is no death, only a change of worlds. — Chief Seattle
White Buffalo Calf Woman, the bringer of the chanupa – the sacred pipe of holiness – invites us always to hold a view of wholeness and Oneness, in addition to seeing from our minute personal sphere and limited years of experience. When we can breathe the expanded sense of the flowing wholeness that carries us through all time, then larger and perhaps clearer perspectives open to us. We become available to rich learning from the wider world around us.
All life offers profound teachings, and humans are learning to pay attention in profound ways. A primary lesson is respect for the life of all things, as White Buffalo Woman has reminded us in one of her tenets: “Whatever you do to anyone or anything else in the circle of life, you do to yourself, for we are One.” In our time, it is good that animal rights and care groups abound to remind us about the preciousness of all life. I, personally, look at the world with the eyes of a sacred ecologist. A normal ecologist would perhaps focus on the usefulness of trees to clean our air, supply oxygen, hold soil, and offer resources; a sacred ecologist would add: “AND they are living things, a part of the great circle of life, and as such deserve our loving care, just as our own human family does.”
This perspective takes me to the ways of our native peoples regarding killing trees. Elder women went about the camp sites gathering dead and dry wood for fires rather than the men felling trees. In preparation for Sundance ceremony, a tree is taken down, yet days of ceremony precede and accompany this rite. Four young, virtuous girls strike the first blows. Thanksgiving and offerings are made. It is carried to the ceremonial grounds in an honoring procession. Sacred objects are tied in it’s branches. It then represents the world tree – the growing and blossoming center of life. In the Crow Indian sundance form, all dancing moves to and from that tree.
Animals also offer powerful teaching about life and death, which primary hunting societies knew well from their intimate association with their prey. This lesson is about respect and honoring in a holy way, deeper than our usual surface awareness. Not only is the one which is harvested honored as an individual, but as well, the flowing, continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth is experienced with awe and blessing.
Now an awakening generation of non-primary people are tuning in to the challenging depth of full understanding. One of those is Tanah Whitemore, a wise woman of mixed native and European heritage, who is the steward of Sacred Ground, International – a teaching center and buffalo preserve which includes my old home ranch on the Crow Reservation.* I will briefly tell her story here so you can journey with her in what the buffalo have taught her.
Tanah wished to bring the buffalo back to the land they had happily roamed in the last century, and so began with a few bulls and cows. She was concerned about her ability to take care of them, to keep them safe and to insure that their unique needs were met. She took great care of them, or should I say, micro-managed them. In turn, over the years, they showed her how independent and powerful they are – what harmony and richness they create in their natural way of movement across the land. The pastures had been neglected, eaten down; and drought had plagued the rolling hills there under the crystal mountains. We raised money to feed the buffalo big bales of hay, fighting through drifts of snow to get food to them, tearing up ranch vehicles in the challenging process. As the years passed, the herd grew and grew……more food needed, more money, no income, stress….. yet because she loved those buffalo with a fierce protection, she would not think of commercially harvesting any, even though the excellent meat of buffalo was in increasing demand and would have given good income.
As Tanah continued to closely observe over successive years, she began to see that the grasslands were improving with the buffalo’s hoof action and their way of grazing and moving as a group. Clear springs came up where their rolling created wallows that filled with water in the spring rain, and thus magnetized water up from the earth to flow forth. She found she had to manage them less and less – they made it obvious that they knew how to live on the land and make it abundant. Yet the herd was growing too big for even her thousands of acres….
Then the buffalo began the deep teaching of “give-away” as she meditated with them, inviting her to do sacred hunts to harvest some of the herd. As difficult as this was, she cautiously began, bringing in a special kind of hunter who would go through teachings and ancient purification rites to ready themselves, praying and telepathically intending toward the one who would give it’s life — a way practiced by long generations of native hunters. Accompanied by guides and sharp-shooters, they would go on the mountain to the herd and sit, praying for the one who was to give itself. When the hunters got quiet and listened, they would often feel the animal before they saw it, creating a connection beyond normal perception. They awakened to the understanding that they and the buffalo were coming together to exchange gifts, to acknowledge their brotherhood, their oneness.
Then a pattern begins that astonishes everyone. A single bull or old cow (whichever has been requested) steps forth, away from the herd and ‘presents’ itself. Those attending report a glow of life, confidence and beauty radiating from this one, who stands proud and strong before them. There is a sense of the buffalo being in joy and celebration, looking around that beautiful homeland for the last time. The one doing the harvest is taught to look into the eyes of this radiant one and give thanks for the gifts about to be exchanged. These buffalo are grateful for the ability to complete and fulfill their journey as providers and teachers – as they are held within the sacred circle of an honoring and acknowledging ceremony. They have been seen, heard and honored for all of their gifts.
The shot, which cannot be taken until everything is clear and the sharpshooters give the OK, has to be behind the head where it joins the neck for a clean kill. During the hunt then, after those radiant moments in celebration of vital life, the buffalo will often move to stand sideways, then literally turn it’s head to open that exact place to the hunters. The shot will be taken and the buffalo gently go down. By this time the hunters are crying; everyone is crying with the intensity and beauty and power of the moment.
Then the immediate family of that buffalo comes forward from the herd and gathers around it, standing in quiet meditation and honoring. The hunters and guides join in that honoring. Tobacco is placed on the Earth and on the buffalo when they go to it, giving thanks for this gift of bounty and sustenance. **
And often among the next season’s calves, Tanah will sense that new buffalo babies are born to embody the energy of the ones who had previously crossed in the Sacred Harvest. They return to the family and land where they have given-away, continuing the circle of life in joy, and creating a deep lesson from which we must learn.
This conscious cycle deepens over time, continuing to teach Tanah and her hunters about the honor of a respected giveaway, the importance of using everything that was given in a sacred way, the continuation of life, and the returning of those who had gone before. The herd is happy and peaceful, fitting within the bounds of it’s land. Tanah’s love for them grows and deepens, as does her respect for the way the buffalo live on and improve the land, and offer themselves in an exchange of gratitude.
Birth and life and death move in a circle of beauty and aliveness. And all is well……
Of course! the path to heaven
doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
Its in the imagination
with which you perceive
and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Brooke can be reached at www.MedicineEagle.com.
To learn about the hunts and harvests, see www.sacredgroundintl.org Connect with Tanah (to arrange for a sacred hunt or harvest – yourself or by an especially designated and trained hunter) 406-245-6070 firstname.lastname@example.org
** This meat is the finest in the world – free range, non-polluted, raised with honor and love. When you (or your group) buy a buffalo rather than packaged meat, there is no requirement for vaccinations or other processes which make the meat less healthy. Sacred Ground arranges processing of meat, hide, skull and all.