On Turtle Island
So the next night Maralung dreamed again and it happened the same way. Again, the Song Master and the Bird came into his dream and woke him and sang for him and again he fell asleep afterwards. But this time in the morning he remembered the song.
~ Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans
Shamanism and Zen. I am for it.
The short graph above is the ending of a longer story we use as part of our miscellaneous koan collection. The folk story is about the ghost of a northern-Australian Aboriginal song-master and his traveling partner, a bird, who visits the dreams of Maralung, himself a shaman and singer of recent years. In his dreams, Maralung would receive ancient songs. The songs themselves were in a ghost language that humans could sing but that only spirits could understand.
Our shamanic heritage called again to me a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting the Heard Museum, in Phoenix, where we held a week-end retreat. At the museum, which is dedicated to Native American art, was a fantastical exhibit transposing the ritual art of the south-western Alaskan Inuit and drawings by Henri Matisse. The show is called Yua: Henri Matisse and the Inner Arctic Spirit. Yua is a Yup’ik Inuit word that represents a balance in the Arctic way of life through knowing the inter-connectedness of all things. While the Matisse drawings of Eskimos were interesting, the Yup’ik ritual masks were strange and spectacular. Designed by the shaman, men and women would carve the masks and use them for dance and story-telling through the long winter darkness to bring good luck in the hunt.
In their many languages, the Aborigine call themselves “the human body” and the Yup’ik know themselves as “the real people.” The shamanic experience here, for me, is understanding with our hearts, minds, and bodies, that that our home ~ this very home ~ is Turtle Island. Not understanding that is the fundamental cause of our treating this island poorly, as I see it. And because our Island and the islands of the Aborigine and the Inuit are not separate, when we sing Maralung’s ghost songs we become “the human body” and when we dance with Yup’ik masks as our own dance, we know intimately the way of “the real people.” Welcome to Turtle Island.
“Turtle Island…(is) an idea found world-wide, of the earth, or cosmos even, sustain by a great turtle or serpentine-of-eternity.”
~ Gary Snyder, Turtle Island