The iconic view of “medicine men” is that of healing. But their abilities often go far beyond the healing arts.
The following is an excerpt from The Wind Is My Mother,” as told by Bear Heart.
The Creek Tribe had about as many medicine women as men and their knowledge and abilities went far beyond the healing arts.
In the old days, when our medicine people were not doctoring their patients or away on some quest, they would occasionally get together and take some time for themselves, meeting and drinking and kind of letting off steam.
I don’t know where they got the liquor because in those days it was illegal for Indians to drink but they managed it somehow. They didn’t do this all the time, just every now and then as it was one of their ways of staying connected with the earth and humanity.
My mother told me about how they would show off in front of one another while they were drinking. As a child she saw one instance where one of them took a whisky bottle, said a chant, blew on the bottle, physically twisted the glass in his hands and set it down — it was still glass, but it was as though it became something else in his hands, something which allowed itself to be re-shaped.
Another one took his belt off, blew on it, flung it on the floor and it turned into a live snake. Those are just some of the things they did, kind of like boys showing off to one another:
“I can do this.”
“That’s nothing, watch this.”
But they would also have occasion to perform such feats in the normal course of their responsibilities, such as preparing a delegate from the tribe to go to Washington.
You may remember in the old Westerns how the President of the United States was known to the Indian people as the “Great White Father.”
We could never understand why very few Indians were ever allowed to see the “Great White Father” in person — the representatives of the Great White Father could talk to the chief of the tribe, but our chief could never confront the head man of the white nation, there always had to be a go between.
In order to choose which medicine man would attend to the delegate, or perhaps even accompany him to Washington, they would all sit around in a circle, put a feather between them and try out their powers. The one who could fly that feather the highest got the job.
When I was a small boy, I saw one instance where one made that feather move, then another made it stand on end. When it came to my mother’s uncle, the feather just zipped straight up, several feet in the air, so he was the one designated to help the delegate.
Once the medicine man was chosen he would fix an herb for the delegate to put in his mouth so that when he spoke he would be eloquent and clear in his presentation.
And at the same time that medicine would also be fixed in such a way that his words would be heard by his audience as being worthy of consideration.
Sometimes a medicine person would also fix face paint so that the delegate would be noticed out of a crowd of people and be looked upon with respect and favor.
Those are just a few of the things that our medicine people used to do in addition to doctoring people.