Initiation: On Being Introduced to the Spirits

We are initiated many times in our lives. First loves, school graduations, and marriages are initiations, as are illnesses, broken hearts, and job losses. Death may be seen as yet another initiation.

Thirty years ago I worked for three years with Dhyani Farmer (now Wyahoo) and Louise Sunfeather. I had landed in Vermont, after fleeing the pollution and arrogance of Washington, D.C.. Louise was working to integrate traditional Cherokee teachings and Western ideas about psychotherapy.  Dhyani was here to fulfill an obligation to her grandparents, and a centuries old prophecy: she would bring the teachings of the Cherokee to the Green Mountains.

Dhyani worked with a deep sense of purpose and urgency. She also sought pathways to integrate her growing involvement with Tibetan Buddhism into her traditional Cherokee worldview. Her’s was not an easy road. In the years ahead, Traditional Indigenous individuals and groups would criticize her for sharing her tribal knowledge. Others would speak against her commitment to Buddhism. Still others would challenge her Cherokee heritage. Fortunately, much of that discord has now faded, and her courage and good heart are widely acknowledged.

In the late Seventies we were just a small group, some Native, some European, some Mixed-Heritage, trying to follow the road of shaman and healer. Near the end of our first year together, we found ourselves atop a small hill on the edge of the Green Mountains. It was a sultry, early summer day and the fragrance of newly cut hay filled the air. In the near distance, a thunderstorm loomed.

Dhyani,called the Spirits to witness and meet us. She introduced each of us, in turn, to the Elders, Ancestors, and Great Weathers. This was a time consuming process. Those of us waiting our turn, anxiously watched the building storm. Thunder growled and rumbled, growing always nearer. Lightning split the sky. Finally, it was my turn to be introduced to the Spirits, to be initiated. I stood with Dhyani atop the hill, in the growing din. Dhyani introduced me. Thunder boomed, lightening forked overhead, and the smell of ozone filled the air. Brimming over with joy, awe, and terror, I began to shake uncontrollably. The sky opened and rain fell in wind blown sheets, drenching all of us. Everyone ran for cover, except me. I vaguely remember someone walking me down the hill to safety. I would continue to shake for a long time.

During the next two years Dhyani would begin to build a meditation society, fulfilling her part of the prophecy of a renewed understanding between Tibetans and the Indigenous peoples of North America. Our small band would slowly move off into the world to do our best to help others, and to share our knowledge. Some stayed with Dhyani. I would go on to work with, and be initiated by, more traditional shaman and healers.

Thirty years have passed. Looking back, that afternoon on the hill grows in importance. While I have since worked with medicine people and shamans from many traditions, I continue to hold  great appreciation for Louise, who supported me at a critical time on my journey, and to Dhyani who taught me much, and who, on that beautiful June afternoon, introduced me to the Spirits.