Thursday, March 13, 2014

You don't have anything if you don't have the stories

            One of the joys that accompanies being a writer is healing catharsis. I have been blessed to have been born into a family of Italy's magical healing tradition known as Stregheria. We don't hover over cauldrons making dead baby paste. We teach, heal and write. The best healings coming from the stories about the ancestors. When you know your past, your pride in that past helps you forge a future.

            Leslie Marmon Silko understands the healing power of stories. In Ceremony, she utilizes a technique akin to listening to a conversation filled room. The novel, taken as a whole, resembles the percussive rhythm of a bar filled with customers' voices. As we cannot make sense of everyone's brokenness and subsequent need to tell their own story simultaneously, we hear one broken shard speak at a time. It is the collection of all these broken shards and their search for catharsis that, when forged together, turn the novel into a stained glass window.
            Silko deftly utilizes a form of medicine that both the Italian Streghe and the Native Americans share, the teachings of animism. If not for bear, mountain lion and grasshopper, Tayo may not ever feel quiet in his stomach. The Sun and Spiderwoman become for him, the caring, compassionate parents he never had

            Betonie’s assistant symbolizes Bear medicine. Bear magic is: “the place where all solutions and answers live in harmony with the questions that fill our realities. If we choose to believe that there are many questions to life, we must also believe that the answers to these questions reside within us” (Werneke 57). Tayo begins by struggling with where he fits. He is caught between the white blood that tells him to shrug off superstition and the Native blood that tells him to repudiate all that the white man represents. But he is a blend of these two worlds. He cannot fully recover unless he finds self-acceptance and that self-acceptance must be rooted in a marriage between the two worlds that made him. Bear tells him this. Bear medicine is the Ursa Major that resides in all of our chakras. It is only when we are in harmony with ourselves that our minds, bodies and spirits can flourish in true alignment. It is only then that the Great Bear stands tall.

            When Tayo realizes that his guts are no longer churning, it is while he is so busy reclaiming Josiah’s lost cattle that he has no time to think about how stressed out he is. In his reclamation of the cattle, he takes back his power and acts on behalf of his family, rectifying a wrong. It is in this moment that he meets Mountain Lion:


Mountain Lion can be a very difficult power totem to have, because it places you in a position to be a target for the problems of others. You could be blamed for things going wrong, or for always taking charge when others cannot. You could become the perfect justification for the insecurities of others.

Mountain Lion medicine involves lessons on the use of power in leadership. It is the ability to lead without insisting that others follow. It is the understanding that all beings are potential leaders in their own ways. (Werneke 105)

Tayo has always been a point of contention in his Auntie’s house. She has made him a scapegoat for all that ails the Indian Nation from that moment he took him in. But he never threw it back in her face, not even at the end. In taking back the cattle, he becomes the man of his house, as is evidenced in Auntie’s inability to look him in the eye. The Mountain Lion itself assists Tayo in achieving his goal and is then subsequently assisted by Mother Nature in thanks.

After Tayo leaves Betonie’s ritual, he seems to have settled within himself his ambivalence about his lineage. When Harley and Leroy ask him what he is looking for as he hangs his head out of the truck he answers: “grasshoppers” (Silko 145). He knows he must learn to walk where his shoes have never been. A new path, a clean slate, is all that will wipe his bones and belly clean of Japan. Grasshopper medicine, “includes jumping across space and time, jumping without knowing where you will land, leaping over obstacles” (Woolcott). Tayo must redefine himself. He has worn the labels of mother’s mistake, Auntie’s burden and American soldier/pawn. Grasshopper takes him on a new journey, one on which he travels toward himself.
Tayo heals through the animism of his heritage and the stories of his people. He overcomes the Ck’o’yo Kaup’a’ta of P.T.S.D. with the aid of the songs and poems of his people. Spiderwoman teaches the Sun how to overcome the Gambler. In this way, the story instructs Tayo how to overcome himself. The stories are the parents he never had. The medicine is the love he’s always deserved. Silko is right. You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories, for without the power of narrative, readers could achieve no catharsis, and neither could we writers.

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