Tag Archives: koan

Iktome and the Ducks

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Iktome and the Ducks_0001_NEW

Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

Curiosity

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The Harbinger

The Harbinger

Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance.

~William Wirt (9th Attorney General of the United States 1817– 1829)

Wonderland is rife with stories about the consequences (initially dire or at least unhappy) of opening forbidden boxes.  Sometimes the boxes come as covered baskets woven by Native Americans, sometimes they are locked rooms, sealed jars or stoppered bottles.  Always the person who opens them is driven by insatiable curiosity to take a peep inside.  Most often they’ve been warned to KEEP OUT!

But, like the person who insists on visiting the spooky basement at midnight to investigate a strange noise instead of sneaking out the back door and running like hell while dialing 911, the insatiably curious just can’t help themselves.

Tales about locked boxes are often touted as learning stories intended to make people conform.  But, if we read them carefully, we find by the end justice prevails.  So perhaps the stories are really about the necessity to persevere through trial, error and some suffering, in order to bring about change for the greater good.  These accounts are among our oldest, old enough to be called myths,  with roots that go back into antiquity.  They are often complicated, richly layered tales full of twists and turn, successes and set-backs.  To me, they seem like initiation stories- rites of passage.

One characteristic of initiations is to take everything the student has learned and turn it upside down by teaching a seemingly opposite truth.  This radical paradigm shift knocks the aspiring initiate out her/his previous assumptions into beginner’s mind; open to new ways of inquiry and conjexture.  In Pandora’s Box the story seems to a warning.  On the other hand ,it might offer the neophyte encouragement to continue on the journey.  Or the story might be a koan meant to force the student to think more profoundly and explore alternative explanations.

In my collage, Pandora, who wears still keeps her golden key in the  medicine bag strung around her neck (perhaps she will encounter other boxes) has already unsealed her jar (bottom right corner) letting loose a swarm of noxious insects, many of which fly and/or sting.  The insects have long since dispersed.   Now, months later, something new has appeared on Earth – flowers.  Many of those flying, stinging, creepy-crawlies were pollinators.  Not only is the world awash in beauty, but a new kind of food is growing in abundance – mangos, paw-paws, bananas, apples, pomegranates, peaches pears, watermelon, pecans, walnuts, cashews,  almonds, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, cauliflower, eggplant, squash, beans , chilies – the list is endless.

You can see these flowers in my collage and also the pollinators, without whom much of the world’s population would starve to death.   The closed jars represent the potential for discovery – the potential for emptying that leaves the womb, which all jars represent, ready for new life.  The emptying is essential to creation; be it a baby, a book or a better mousetrap.  The sealed jars are the catalysts of curiosity, harbingers of action.  Pandora is the universal girl who dares act, who uses the gifts she’s been given to initiate change.