My Medicine Man and teacher, James Carpenter, is a gifted healer and one of four Traditional Healers at Anishnawbe Health, Toronto’s visionary health care center dedicated to serving our city’s 70K + Indigenous relatives. People even come from Reserves hours away to see James and the AH Traditional Healing team. That’s how good they are.
Since James and I began walking together in 2016, and with the love and teachings and friendship of the entire AH community, I have learned more about Universal Truth, About God, About the importance of knowing our deep personal identities, bloodline ancestries, histories and family, About community, stewardship of the environment, And, about the ancient primordial universal symbolism expressed through all aspects of nature – plants, trees, rocks, stars, swimmers, animals, and birds – than in all my previous years on this planet. The most powerful and intense period of healing, reconciliation, and learning I have ever experienced.
My gratitude is endless, and so it is with all honor and respect to my teacher and beloved younger brother, James that I share his teaching about “unimportant birds.”
Only a few months after Chi Manidoo (Great Spirit) led me to AH and, more specifically to James Carpenter, through a little dog named Howard, we were sitting with one of our Oshkebewis (helpers) in one of the Traditional Healing Rooms at AH’s Gerrard Street Clinic.
Every time one of us who is walking on the Anishnawbe Health Healing Journey pays a visit to a Traditional Healer, we bring a little red cloth pouch of Sacred Tobacco (a tobacco tie) that we have made to express our gratitude to Creator for this great gift of healing and guidance we are receiving through the Traditional Healer, the Oshkebewis, and the AH community.
(In my Southern Ancestors’ tradition, when we visit a Traditional Healer, it is also customary to bring a gift of food, blankets, or other tools and provisions as our Medicine People give much time helping others, and so are supported in their material needs by the community. Gift-giving is also one way Chi Manidoo has given us to express love and thanksgiving for one another. I now reclaim this tradition and will practice it and teach it to my relatives of every Spiritual path.)
After I had presented James with my tobacco tie, and we had all joined in the purification ritual & gratitude prayers of Smudging, we began talking about the process of collecting and remembering my personal identification that I was undergoing with his help. Part of this process is discovering and learning about our Clans.
It was clear pretty early in the process that I am a Bird Clan person, as in virtually every tradition, the Bird Clan is the group of people responsible for communications and ministry. In my Cherokee People’s tradition, the Bird Clan people are responsible for Story Medicine, Teaching, Helping people connect with the Great Spirit, and growing plants for food and medicine.
It has been indescribably validating to learn that, in addition to my primary role in this lifetime as a Mother, I have been doing Bird Clan activities my entire life – as a journalist, historian, teacher, theologian, gardener, plant medicine healer. Walking the Red Medicine Path is where all these pieces are being reconciled and integrated into my truth, my eternal reality.
Once we determined that I Am indeed a Bird Clan person, James asked me to identify WHICH bird I feel best represents who I Am.
At that very moment, I looked out the window to see a Hawk circling above the park across the street (and later I would find the feather that she left for me).
I said to James, “oh, wow. there is a Hawk right outside that window! this happens to me all the time.” Of course he could see that I was preening a little bit.
Then, James said two things to me that I will never forget.
“You know, Hawks aren’t the nicest birds around. They’re predators who kill and eat other animals.”
“Everyone automatically thinks they are an important bird like a Hawk or an Eagle. But, a long time ago my teacher told me it’s more important to pay attention to the Seagulls. You need to pay the most attention to the unimportant birds.”
Seagull is a very well known bird to James and his relatives, whose Ancestors are Ojibwe-Chippewa (Anishnaabeg) people and have lived in the Great Lakes area for thousands of years. Chi Miigwetch to them for sharing their land with us now.
Seagull is a common bird (but deceptively powerful teacher) for Ojibwe-Chippewa Great Lakes people, like the Sparrow is for my people the Cherokee, and Pigeon is for modern-day Urban people.
Because humans have forgotten that we are related and connected to all of Chi Manitou’s children of every form, we have begun to think we are superior to our relatives in the other families of beings.
We jeer at Pigeon and call her mean names like “flying rat” instead of taking the time to get to know her and to learn her lessons.
We elect leaders who allow their business friends to put cruel spikes on windowsills and rooftops so Pigeon has no place to rest up high, to build glass-walled skyscrapers that kill hundreds of thousands every year instead of learning how to build cities that provide sanctuary and nurture to our Bird relatives.
And so, at this time of many prophecies, we have reached the point of such ugly disregard for all of Life on lovely Earth that as a species and planet we are now literally faced with the choice of life and death.
If humanity is to survive, every single person on this planet must be helped to remember that we are utterly and completely dependent on the wisdom and medicine, the health and well-being of even the littlest crawlers, the trickster coyotes, and every relative of the sky.
We must listen to them and follow their teachings.
I’m pretty sure James has a direct line to all of my Spiritual Guides because he knew the exact medicine I needed to help me discover more of my own eternal identity – to discover the particular bird (or, as I would come to learn, “birds“) that come to help me and guide me along my pathway.
I had already been telling him about how I was receiving messages from Spirit through strategically placed birds showing up on my daily medicine walks.
Following every attention-getting experience with a particular bird or group of birds, I would go home and research the Indigenous Medicine and Symbolic (archetypal) meaning as understood through the Shamanic Tradition, then come and tell James all about what I had learned.
Because, he is profoundly wise and gifted well beyond his 39-ish years in this life, James knew I would rise to his challenge and go out and educate myself about the “unimportant” birds.
Of course, because I live in the downtown heart of one of Turtle Island’s largest cities, pigeons greet me and accompany me every single day. And, the first stage of Pigeon’s healing medicine came from the transformation of my attitude about her.
I’ve always been one of those people who like to feed the birds and animals in the parks, and so at the time of James’ teaching, my relationship with Pigeon was (in my mind) that of “Lady Bountiful” or like a benefactress bestowing bird seed upon her grateful feathered subjects.
Well, blech, right?
To be fair, I think my deal had more to do with Demeter, Goddess of the Grain than with the kind of creepy “philanthropists” who have taken over the world through the guise of “helping.” The dualistic expressions of “giving” each taken to their extreme.
But, in my urban peasant world, I felt a kind of “responsible” superiority toward Pigeon.
Not equality or understanding or respect or honor of her as a Sister in the Family of God.
As I continued my Medicine Walk, I began paying closer and closer attention to Pigeon. Started noticing where She and her relatives liked to gather to eat the seeds and treats that the Beloved Kind-Hearts faithfully buy and set out for them each day. Started noticing the beauty of their many colours – black, brown, grey and white feathers, speckles, beautiful shading, iridescent neck bands. Started noticing ones that looked like they need help or protection. Started watching the way they talk and relate to one another and other birds, their courtship dances, their friendships.
Pigeon is the common bird and she gives us the gift of showing us to ourselves – as ones who are humble, living close to the ground, often disrespected and mistreated by those who believe themselves to be our own “superiors,” yet always in partnership, community with one another. Pigeons like relationships. I have rarely seen Pigeon hanging out by herself for very long.
Pigeon is also the close relative of Dove, the universal representation of the Divine Feminine, offering us the sacred medicines of Peace, Compassion, Gentle Wisdom and Understanding. The Infinite Love of every Mother who has ever lived throughout all of space and all of time.
Dove is the faithful Companion of Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom, and of Jesus’ beloved friend, the Medicine Woman Mary Magdalene. And, she is the sacred Bird of Kwan Yin – the great Mother of Compassion who is revered by our relatives from the East, the Yellow Quadrant of the Medicine Wheel.
So, here within this little bird we have reflected the most fundamental aspects of being human: ground-level living, family and community, divine compassion, and wisdom in a world that is often harsh and cruel.
As my relationship with Pigeon has grown over the past two years, these generous birds have given me many priceless gifts. They have given me dozens of their beautiful feathers and introduced me to the study of Bird Shamanism and Feather Medicine – which are Indigenous healing practices known and taught by Traditional Medicine People for hundreds of thousands of years. And, Pigeon showed me in the dream-time that the Ancestors have given me permission to wear Sacred Feathers in my hair. James explained to me that dreaming of wearing feathers in our hair means the Ancestors are bestowing us with this great honor.
This winter, my son and I have been befriended by a Pigeon couple who appreciate the corn and sunflower seed mix we started putting out on our 8th floor balcony during a particularly cold snap.
This pair, whom we have named Charlotte and Sam now come to visit every day; and, one morning last week Charlotte perched on my bedroom window sill to wake me up with her soft little gurgle. I’m pretty sure she was complaining to the management that breakfast wasn’t ready yet.
Over these past weeks (months?) that Charlotte and Sam have been sheltering on our balcony during the day, we have felt the true healing that comes only from moving closer to Mother Nature, to making a personal connection with our relatives from God’s other kinds and families.
We talk to these feathered relatives of ours.
We now take the time to gaze upon their beautiful shapes as they’re perched on the railing.
And, we still suck in our breath and feel our hearts leap every time they launch themselves in flight.
We have begun to learn about the history of Pigeon, and about how smart they are – how they recognize us while we are down on the street, coming and going into our building; and we have begun to look for Sam and Charlotte while we’re out.
To wonder if they follow us.
To wonder if they will find us when we move.
They have reminded us that they are our relatives.
They have reminded us how much we love them.
And, every day, through the antics of Sam and Charlotte and a host of their friends in our downtown Toronto neighborhood, Pigeon teaches us something else about herself and shows us another glimpse of Bird Medicine, and heals our disconnection a little bit more.
This morning, as I was feeling Pigeon asking me to tell you about her Medicine, she gave me this Music Medicine to go along with her other teachings.
This song, “In Dreams,” is a gift of benediction by Jai-Jagdeesh, a lovely healing musical shaman who was raised in the Kundalini Yoga, meditation, and chanting traditions, and is well respected in the Kirtan community.
The beautiful lyrics offer a fine expression of the Great Mother’s love that Pigeon offers to us every single day through her presence, her energy, and her teachings.
Know you are loved
Rest in peace
Dream your sweet dreams
“Til your soul is released
My heart is yours
Go out and open doors
With your love
With your faith
With your compassion
With your grace
Oh, with your grace
You are the light of the world
Go out, spread light to the world
Be strong, be kind, be brave
Know your mind
know that you’re are divine
Know that it’s alright to be afraid
Dhan Dhan Guru Ram Das
These are the gifts of Pigeon to us on this fine day, and we can be sure that she will be sharing more of her medicine in the days to come. It is my greatest honor to share them with you.
Chi Miigwetch for being here.
A’ho and Amen,
swc kandace ma
Toronto ON Canada Turtle Island Gaia
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