Netompa`nog (my friends). On behalf of the circle, I welcome you.
I am the teller of a long and demanding tale. It is a true story of the Americas and of the earth -- of what they have been, and of what they may become. Odyssey of the Eighth Fire is a story of the years leading up to the third millennium CE, and then beyond.
Though I never intended to write this tale, about half way through the journey that is at the core, I knew I must. In form, this blog -- this book -- is a journal written by an independent journalist over the course of ten or more years. Parts of the book were captured in notebooks as the events unfolded from 1990 to 1996; most of the book and the deeper layers of understanding were realized after the final steps of our long walk, and then woven into the text.
Odyssey of the Eighth Fire tells the true story of one small group of people just before the turn of the millennium. We shared a vision. We walked across North America to make it real.
The first time I heard William Commanda relate the story of America via the Algonquin teachings of the Seven Prophets and the Seven Fires, he was 77 years old, and I was 41. It was May of 1990, and we sat in the living room of his home on the shore of Bitobi Lake in western Quebec Province, Canada. The lake is part of the Kitigan Zibi Reserve, which is home to the Mamiwinini, one of the 84 Algonquin Nations.
Grandfather, as he is called by nearly everyone, sat in an overstuffed armchair, and gave voice to the story that he and his ancestors have repeated with meticulous care for hundreds of years.
Grandfather told me that long ago seven prophets came among the Anishinabe, who include all of the Algonquin-speaking peoples of North America. In the era when the prophets came, the Anishinabe – the people -- were living a good and contented life.
The prophets came by the fire and shared with the people seven messages about the future. The messages were remembered, and passed down generation after generation. Each of those messages is referred to as a fire, and each fire represents an epoch of time. All together they are called the Seven Fires of the Ojibway.
In this manner this odyssey began -- not just tales of the spiritual heritage of North America, but tales also of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, and of the times beyond.
That afternoon in 1990 unfolded slowly. I listened to Grandfather, posed questions, and took notes diligently. I marveled at the richness of the story I was hearing for the first time, and the story's apparent relevance to the 1990s. But I listened as a reporter in search of a story. I had no inkling that within five years I and many others would become fully enmeshed in the story's next chapter, what I came to regard as the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.
As Grandfather Commanda explained that afternoon in his living room, when the seven prophets came among the people long ago they told of seven fires, or epochs of time, that would unfold in the future.
The first prophet told the people that the land where they were living would soon go under the water in a great flood that would cover most of the world. The second prophet encouraged the people to travel westward for safety, to find new homes on a vast island in the approximate shape of a turtle (Turtle Island, or North America). So it went. Each prophet spoke in turn about a coming fire.
|Odyssey of the 8th Fire - Sacred journey. From First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, across Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, toward the Western Gate, California.
The people heard the prophets foretell that eventually they would be joined upon their Turtle Island homeland by other human beings, some with light-colored skin, some with black skin, and some with yellow skin.
If these different-colored people came in respect and friendship, they would all pool their wisdom to form a just and mighty nation. Wonderful things would unfold. However, if the immigrants came in arrogance, with weapons in their hands, and if they had forgotten the sacred handshake of brotherhood that Creator was said to have shown to all in the beginning, then long generations of confusion and suffering would follow for everyone.
Late in the darkening day Grandfather Commanda told me of the seventh prophet, the prophet who spoke of dying trees and poisoned waters, the one who spoke of a time when strange sicknesses would arise and deranged people would see no purpose in living other than to horde the world's treasures.
Drawing upon the shared understandings of Eddie Benton Banai and other Algonquin elders, Grandfather Commanda said that the seventh prophet who came before the people was different. The seventh prophet was young. He had a bright, holy light in his eye.
When the seventh prophet spoke, he said 'in the time of the Seventh Fire there will arise Oshkibimadizeeg (a new people) who will emerge from the clouds of illusion. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the side of the trail long ago. Stories that had been lost will be returned to them. They will remember the Original Instructions given to the human beings by Creator. They will find strength in the way of the circle.
"Their steps will take them to the elders, who they will ask to guide them on their journey," the seventh prophet said. "But many of the elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the elders will be silent out of fear. Some of the elders will point in the wrong direction. But most of the elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them...
“…However, if the new people remain strong in their quest, the sacred fire will again be lit. It is at this time that the people will be given a choice between two roads."
What caught my attention back in 1990 was the part of the story telling of the new people -- the new people retracing the footsteps of the ancestors to seek out what had been left by the side of the trail. As it turned out, that is the part that eventually caught the attention of hundreds of other people as well.
Long ago when the seven prophets delivered their messages for the Algonquin, the people recognized the teachings as worthy of remembrance. They encoded the teachings in the design of a wampum belt, a sacred artifact fashioned of seashell beads. The wampum belt could be examined, and its symbols contemplated from time to time, so the people would remember. The Seven Fires Wampum Belt has been handed down among the Algonquin for hundreds of years.
Since 1968 Grandfather Commanda has held the belt on behalf of the people. As a Traditional Chief of his nation, and as Keeper of the Wampum and several other sacred artifacts, he has thought a great deal about the teaching of the Seven Fires. He and the other elders have a very specific interpretation of the "two roads" that lie before us.
One is the road of materialism, and the other is the road of spirituality. "A headlong rush to technological development without consideration of the Earth or future generations is the road that has led modern society to a damaged and seared Earth. This road leads to destruction...
As elder Eddie Benton-Banai expressed it in The Misomish Book: "... if people choose the road of respect and spirituality, which represents a slower path, there is hope. The Earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there. If the people choose this road then it can light an 8th Fire."
As I understand it, the 8th Fire represents the hope and the prospect of a spiritually evolved era of honesty, forgiveness, respect, caring, and sharing. The 8th Fire is a fire of illumination, a mature spiritual impulse that touches the whole world and every soul.
We have entered the time of the 7th Fire, Grandfather Commanda told me back in 1990. "Now we have an opportunity and a responsibility to help kindle the 8th Fire."
The story Grandfather Commanda told me in his living room that Sunday afternoon is a story he has repeated many times at gatherings of people all over Turtle Island -- from the Arctic Circle to the dense rain forests of Central America. It is the foundational story he repeated during a momentous conference at United Nations (UN) headquarters on the island of Manhattan on the day of November 23, 1993.
Grandfather journeyed to UN that day as head of the four-man Algonquin delegation to the Cry of the Earth conference. The Cry of the Earth occurred not as a consequence of Algonquin teachings, but rather in response to the traditions held by the Hopi people, who are based in the desert we know as the Four Corners of America's Southwest. Hopi cosmology, like that of the Algonquin, dates back to the time of a great flood.
Since the end of World War II when Hopi teachings and prophecies were first publicly proclaimed, they gradually assumed worldwide prominence. Traditional Hopi, including Martin Gashweseoma and the late Thomas Banyaca, say that one particular sign they were instructed to watch for -- a "gourd of ashes" -- was in fact enacted by the nuclear bombs "poured out" upon Nagasaki and Hiroshima, causing "everything to boil and be destroyed” over a wide area.
According to their oral tradition, at the time of this and other signs, the Hopi had a responsibility to seek out a House of Mica (glass) that would stand on the far eastern shore of Turtle Island -- a place where leaders from around the world would come to discuss their problems. In 1948 the Hopi recognized the newly constructed UN headquarters as the long-awaited House of Mica. Prophecy instructed the Hopi that, when they found the great meeting house for the leaders of the world, they should make four knocks on the door -- four attempts to speak there and to deliver a key message.
|The House of Mica - United Nations headquarters in New York City, with its distinctive glass facade, which gleams like the mineral mica in the desert sunshine. (UN Photo 104 713 SAW LWIN).
Over the years since 1948 the Hopi elders came and knocked again and again at the door to the House of Mica, but they were turned away.
Finally, a delegation of four Hopi elders came to New York in 1993 for the Cry of the Earth conference -- what amounted to a fourth and final knock at the door to the House of Mica. The Hopi were accompanied by 24 other traditional elders from six other Native American nations, including the four-person Algonquin delegation headed by Grandfather Commanda.
Speaking at UN headquarters, the elders delivered a unified and explicit warning that the time of purification -- the era of withering fruit spoken of in their traditions -- is already in progress, and likely to intensify. They presented their understandings, handed down orally since antiquity, regarding the ethical, ecological, and spiritual crises confronting humanity today. Their messages fell on deaf ears.
When Grandfather Commanda gauged the lack of understanding at the UN, he saw an urgent need to take the messages of the elders directly to the people, and to fulfill the instructions set out long ago by the Seventh Prophet. The experience at the UN set the idea in his mind. It impelled him to sound the call for a prayer walk that would "retrace the steps of the ancestors along the path of the Sun," from East to West, to recover what had been lost long ago, as the Seventh Prophet had said should happen.
Although UN officials and the media were unmoved by the elders unified cry of warning in 1993, at least one person heard the message. It changed the course of his life. Tom Dostou is a man of mixed Wabanaki and Irish heritage. He had come to New York that November in a rage. He was seeking guns and money to support an incipient revolt against the Canadian government on a Mohawk reservation. But he was stopped in his tracks by the elders.
Upon hearing their messages, Tom had what he would later describe as an instant spiritual awakening. He forswore anger and violence, and abandoned his search for weapons. He determined instead to spearhead the prayer walk that Grandfather was calling for – to retrace the footsteps of the ancestors. A forceful and charismatic figure, Tom assumed the mantle of headman for the walk.
Plans for the pilgrimage began to take shape. The walkers would start near the Eastern Door of Turtle Island -- in Massachusetts along the Atlantic Ocean -- and then retrace the footsteps of the ancestors south and west, carrying the message of the elders directly to the people.
Nine months after the elders spoke at the UN's House of Mica, something happened that intensified the sense of urgency for the walk to get underway. A white buffalo calf was born.
As the Sun traversed the late-summer sky, the white calf drew her first breath on a 46-acre family farm alongside the Rock River in Janesville, Wisconsin, on August 20, 1994. Given the name "Miracle," the calf stirred an immense wave of interest around the world, especially in the minds of the people who were heeding Grandfather Commanda's call to walk and to pray.
The legend of the white buffalo, and the contemporary appearance of Miracle, have profound spiritual significance for most of the six million Native Americans alive today, as well as for millions of other people.
|A White Buffalo - More than 15 white buffaloes have been born in North America since the first, Miracle, in 1994. This photo taken at the base of the San Francisco Peaks, Spirit Mountain Ranch, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. (Author photo, 2006).
Legend has it that long ago the seven council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped near Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge Butte) in Wyoming. Two young men set out on foot to look for buffalo. Late in the day the hunters encountered a holy woman dressed in white buckskins. She came across the plains in a sacred manner, as if floating and enveloped by shimmering light.
Four days later the holy woman visited the council fires to teach the people to respect and to support the natural balance on Turtle Island -- that life might continue.
Before the sacred woman left she told the people that she would come among the people again during a time of chaos and confusion. She told them she would return to share teachings for the awakening of a new era of illumination. She said the sign of her spirit returning would be the same sign she would share with them this day. Then she walked away from the encampment and rolled over four times, rising finally as a white buffalo calf.
After that day, this holy woman of North America has been known as Pte San Wi, White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman, and people have waited for her return. Now, as far as most Native American people are concerned, the spirit of White Buffalo Woman has in fact returned. The birth of Miracle in August 1994 was widely regarded as a sign of that return, and the elders of that particular tradition confirmed the sign.
These are key among the unfoldments that set the stage for the 3,700-mile pilgrimage known officially as the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth -- some of the first steps on the odyssey of the 8th Fire.
Pilgrimage is a perennial spiritual tradition, with historical roots that reach around the globe. In ancient times people set out on pilgrimage to do penance, to enhance their own spiritual growth, or to direct their prayers and sacrifices in support of someone, or some situation at home.
In our times, arising out of global necessity, pilgrimage has taken on a different character. Pilgrims often journey not for themselves alone, but rather to direct their prayers and intentions in support of the earth. Such was the character of the Sunbow 5 Walk for the Earth.
Under the guidance of Grandfather Commanda, Tom Dostou and his wife Naoko Haga began to assemble a band of walkers, including medicine men, and a multiracial, multispiritual group that ranged in numbers from seven to 200 or more over the nearly eight months of the odyssey.
By the time Summer, 1995 rolled around, people were primed to go. The walkers had been moved by the simplicity and directness of the Seven Fires story, by the power of the elders' messages at the House of Mica, by the promise expressed in the birth of the White Buffalo, and by the chaos and distress evident all around them in people and the environment. They were of one mind to begin.
By the time 1995 rolled around, I also felt and saw these things. I, too, set off on the journey, walking some of the steps and supporting others to go forward by sitting in an office and serving as the walk's coordinator for a time. Now I am one teller of the tale.
As with Odysseus in the time of classical Greece, most pilgrims who embark on an epic journey encounter a fate far different from their expectations. So it was for us, the Sunbow 5 walkers.
During the course of the cross-continent walk, we walkers often agreed among ourselves that we were a microcosm of humanity – with all the gifts and faults, and all the mundane, escstatic, and wretched dramas in miniature. For me, even now long after the walk has ended, this view remains valid.
I see further that our Sunbow 5 walk can represent a metaphor for the larger walk that all of humanity is making from an old time to a new time. This larger walk is what I regard as the true Odyssey of the 8th Fire, and every person on earth has an opportunity to make the journey.
Our Sunbow 5 Walk took place in the early days of the Internet. We used this new electronic communication tool to help build community. Thus, Odyssey of the 8th Fire is, in addition to everything else, a report on a pioneering online community. To give a sense of that, and to add a greater diversity of voices, I have woven into the text of this book some of the material posted to the internet.
As has been the case for the teller of every epic tale, so it is for me with this journal: I have had to leave out far more than I have been able to include. The full tale is infinitely more subtle and complex than these pages can hope to convey, and in truth the story has not yet finished happening. In terms of our collective, global Odyssey of the 8th Fire, we are just somewhere beyond the beginning.
Some of the events which unfolded over the long months of our walk from Atlantic to Pacific are imbued with more mystery than I can summon words to explain. Yet I have done my best to tell the tale with accuracy, respect, and understanding. The spirit of the odyssey endures. The promise of the 8th Fire beckons. - Meegwich, Steven McFadden
Copyright 2006 – Steven McFadden
Read Day 0 - Odyssey of the 8th Fire