Welcome to the latest installment of our ongoing conversation. I refer to this article as The Council Fire-Reloaded, and if this title reminds you of the Matrix trilogy, I’m a fan. However, the main reason for the Reloaded reference is to perform a reset, getting back to our roots, a remembering of ancient ancestral knowledge. It’s time that we rediscover the true significance of gathering around a council fire and experience the power that awaits us all. Power in the form of ancient guidance, and wisdom.
This article is meant to provide you with a basic foundation based in traditional indigenous practices so that you can have success in forming your own counsel fires. The intentions behind creating and forming into gatherings of this nature are innumerable. My intention is to encourage the formation of your own groups, adopting and sharing these principals widely. Every gathering is an opportunity for us to bring these traditional elements to our meetings, which will elevate our conversations and decision-making processes.
We can use the council fire in casual ways, such as friends and family coming together to engage in meaningful conversation. We can organize groups who wish to explore spirituality, by discovering wisdom and teachings in an experiential method. The council fire can be brought to the classroom, the workplace, and anywhere we wish to create a powerful element of community, sharing and learning.
Ultimately, the council fire is the stage on which all government decision and policy making should be conducted. For at the council fire, integrity, honesty and a connection to higher wisdom are integral. The wisdom of the ages is available to the participants, and their responsibility to the next Seven generations is always present.
I’ve shared with you that my knowledge of a council fire was given to me in a shamanic vision. In the vision, there was a native chief who presented himself to me. The Chief revealed that in life he would come to the council fire and take his place sitting before it. He would come to fire in order to seek the guidance and wisdom from those of the spirit realm. Guidance from the wise ones, all the ancient ancestors, who have crossed the rainbow bridge and are now on the other side of the veil.
In my Interview with Angela Levesque on Entanglement Radio, we discussed the history of the council fire as being integral to the Iroquois system of governance. The Iroquois Confederacy, The Five Nations was a revolutionary system of governing that had enjoyed a Peace which lasted over 300 years. It was only disrupted by colonization, which brought with it the competing interests of Britain and France.
The American system of government, the constitution of the United States, adopted many of the same governing principals of the Iroquois. However, while the founding fathers looked to the accomplishments of the Iroquois as a model, they overlooked the nuances of Indigenous spirituality. It was this form of spirituality that provided the true foundation of integrity on which the Iroquois form of government was built upon.
While the founding fathers looked to the accomplishments of the Iroquois as a model, they overlooked the nuances of Indigenous spirituality.
So what are the basics that we need to know for conducting our own Council fires? Let us begin with every gathering by having all the participants seated in a circle with the fire location to be at the center of this circle. While many of the customs I share with you are flexible and open to improvisation, the circle is not. Imagine if we insisted that every session of our local and federal government were conducted in a circle, how would this affect the dynamics of these meetings?
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… The Sky is round, and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours… Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from Childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.
~Black Elk (1863-1950) Oglala Sioux Holy man
At the very beginning of every gathering, we should prepare ourselves through the act of smudging. This can even be done before the attendees take their place in the circle. Burning of sage, cedar and sweet grass in a large Abalone shell is a traditional indigenous smudge in which the smoke is fanned with a large feather over our body beginning at our crown. All who are present at our gathering are to be smudged. This ritual is done to cleanse, to cast off negative energies and to then welcome higher vibrational energies into our ceremony. We are setting a stage, welcoming higher energies, inviting the ascended ones, the ancestors, and spirits of the celestial light realm. Keeping a smudge bowl lightly burning during ceremony is desirable.
The Circle is orientated to the Cardinal directions. Traditionally, the Elders and the master of ceremony, a pipe carrier would be seated in the West direction. Women would sit in the Southern hemisphere and the Men in the Northern hemisphere, all were arranged according to age with the youngest of the group seated in the East direction. There are symbolic reasons to this seating arrangement, along with the intention of balancing the masculine and feminine energies.
The group should choose a master of ceremony who begins by opening sacred space. This is to honor the indigenous Spiritual traditions and to create a positive, loving environment. Organized Religion’s rituals, dogma, and belief systems are not a part of these sacred gatherings. Opening sacred space is a tradition which begins by facing the East direction. Each of the four cardinal directions is faced, moving clockwise. As we face each of the directions the elemental energy of creation is recognized. The elements of Fire,Water, Earth, and Wind are aspects of these creative forces. There were animal archetypal energies also associated with these directions. Looking then to Mother Earth, expressing gratitude for sustaining us, for providing the basis of our existence, and for all life upon our planet. Then looking above to the sky and heavens, honoring our relatives, the ancestors, the celestial bodies including the moon, star people and star nations of which we are included. The indigenous people also acknowledged a Creator, often referred to as the Great Mystery, the Great spirit. While looking to the sky, spend a few moments in silence. This is an appropriate time for group members to personalize this experience according to their own belief system, but do so silently.
We walk a fine line within our modern culture and we must be conscious of the potential for creating divisiveness. Religious beliefs are often counter-intuitive to the pursuit of seeking enlightenment through spirituality. We come together in real time in order to listen, share and seek guidance collectively. I propose that the indigenous peoples were extremely humble, they did not profess to know the heart, mind or characteristics of their creator. Instead, Indigenous people limited their assertions to what is observable within the natural world.
Once the opening ceremony has been completed, and all members are situated, it’s time to begin. A Fire Keeper is to be selected prior to the gathering. If the Council Fire is conducted indoors than the fire keeper will simply light a white candle, one that allows the flame to be visible by all in attendance. If the fire is conducted outdoors then there will be greater responsibility. Traditionally, care was taken in selecting the wood used in the fire. Walnut and woods that could cause sparks or create popping were not used. The thinking was that sparks or popping sounds would be a distraction to those in attendance, especially when they are entering an altered state.
Upon lighting the fire, some traditions would elect to sing a song and perhaps even move around the fire, but always in a clockwise motion. This is the time which the fire gains strength, and also to celebrate. It’s a happy occasion to come together, as anticipation also grows. Observe the fire as it goes through its stages, and there will come a point where it will grow friendly. This is the time to turn the focus of all in attendance to the purpose of your gathering.
“Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regard for the rule that, thought comes before speech.” ~Luther Standing Bear (1868-1939) Oglala Sioux Chief
Conversation and all movements around the Fire for that matter are done clockwise in motion. All in attendance have an equal opportunity to share and to ask questions. Another tradition which could be introduced at this time is the talking stick. Depending on the nature of your meeting, this tradition, in essence, means only the one holding the stick may speak. Those that follow may not criticize or speak directly to the last speaker. They may however share their own perspectives on the subject at hand.
Regardless of how the conversation is to play out, having respect and creating a safe environment for all is crucial. I encourage you to set some time during the fire to meditate in a shamanic way. This is accomplished by drumming or rattling for about 5-10 minutes while in a relaxed, meditative state. It’s during this time that we allow our consciousness to become altered in trance. We look through the fire and visualize it becoming a portal to the other side of the veil. The spirits of our ancestors may choose to communicate directly with us in some manner, as we journey. This communication can occur in many forms, so be open to however it may present to you.
Once the shamanic journey is over, we ask all who are willing to share their experience with the group. In sharing, each person adds another layer of wisdom to the group’s collective experience. Communication from the ancestors may occur at any time around the council fire. In essence, everything that transpires and all that comes from our mouths at the council fire is done in their presence. The journey is simply an intentional period of seeking greater insight.
When the council fires were called by the Iroquois, it was truly a sacred forum in which to conduct affairs of government. The representatives from each tribe and clan came to the council with great integrity. The fire at the center of these meetings, was a living representation of the spirit realm, of their ancestors who were witnessing all the affairs taking place. The pipe carrier who opened the ceremony sent prayers to the creator, in doing so all affairs were being witnessed by the great mystery, the great spirit. In this spiritual setting. it was incomprehensible for the members to lie or come from a place of deception. These were the conditions in which treaties with the United States government were conducted.
Of interest, these representatives were chosen by the women, the matriarchs of their community. If a council member didn’t represent the wishes of their people, they would be replaced immediately. The council members sought unanimity in all their decision making. A simple majority would never suffice, so at the very least, a super majority was the minimum standard of agreement. The decision-making process also took into consideration the welfare of the next Seven generation of their people.
What I’ve shared with you is a basic foundation based on indigenous practices. It’s a starting point from which I believe we can expand and build our future upon. I ask that you take these basic fundamentals and begin forming your own council fires. Experiment with them, and please share what you learn with the world and with us here at Conversations From the Brink. Together we can create a brighter future for the next Seven generations, Aho.