When I was in Taos I so badly wanted to deep dive into its cultural DNA. It’s a magical place with much insider seduction. I’m told it takes about a year, or more, to become part of the the fabric there. Sadly, I didn’t have that kind of time so I looked for an accelerated immersion program.
The Taos Pueblo, the area’s Native American nation, has been operating for more than 1000 years. Tourists are welcome to visit the adobe village. Parking is free. You register at the front desk, pay a $10 camera fee, roam the designated areas, then leave. Their ceremonies are not for outsiders.
When I saw a listing on the community events calendar for “Sacred Peace Pipe Ceremony and Spirit Balancing” though, I bit hook, line, and sinker. Native Americans believe the peace pipe connects the physical and spiritual worlds and it’s one of, if not the most, sacred of all ceremonies.
Cathy, my dear friend and hostess who’s quite dialed into the community, wasn’t endorsing it but didn’t want to deflate my enthusiasm. I was going to be part of this sacred ceremony come hell or high water.
After driving in circles for a while, I finally found the “spiritual center”— home of this peace pipe. It was a townhouse in the middle of an ordinary neighborhood. No cars were parked out front. Seemed like I was the only one there. This wasn’t matching my mind’s eye.
Rev. Running Cub* met me at the door to the spiritual center/townhouse. Very friendly but curious about me. Curious about me? I was curious about her! First of all, she revealed right off the bat that she moved to Taos from Long Island ten years ago. Second, it was clear that Running Cub wasn’t her given name. Third, she was living in a townhouse with a floral couch in the living room, a tv in the corner, and a dining room set off to the side.
Where were we going to have the sacred ceremony? And, where were all of the Native Americans?
Turns out they weren’t coming. Because, they have an actual sacred ceremony. Within the Pueblo. This one was…adapted. It was a sacred ceremony in a way. It was sacred to Rev. Running Cub and to Lisa* who showed up just as I started to feign a stomach flu. The ceremony was real and important to them. To me, it didn’t seem very authentic. I wanted this to be what I wanted so badly that I refused see any of the signs that my peace pipe fantasy doesn’t exist. Outsiders aren’t invited to sacred ceremonies. The people of Taos don’t congregate once a week to smoke a sacred peace pipe. If they did, Cathy would’ve known and told me about it.
The ceremony started. Rev. Running Cub played the drum. Lisa sang. I “participated” silently/reluctantly.
Rev. Running Cub did her best to make me feel comfortable and keep me abreast of the ceremony’s flow. Lisa knew all the words to the songs and even made a request— a tune asking Grandfather to keep watching us…all of the time. I cringe at the thought of my grandfather knowing, much less watching, what I’m doing all the time.
After a while, it was time to offer up prayers for ourselves and others. I wasn’t prepared for this to be an out-loud offering so I shot from the hip. Lisa came with pages of prayer offerings beautifully and specifically written.
After the prayers, out came the peace pipe. FINALLY. Rev. RC explained the whole thing step by step— this is the bowl, the stem, this is the tobacco, this is the tamper, this is the lighter. The pipe is the link between earth and sky. The fire is the source of life. The tobacco’s roots are deep into the earth. The smoke rises to the heavens. Don’t inhale. Pass clockwise. Rev. RC lit up.
Holy crap, all I could think about was opening a window. The smoke. So thick. So fast. Damn, I could barely breathe. My mind turned to Mayor Bloomberg, his smoking laws, and how I’m 100,000% behind him.
Lisa finished her turn on the pipe, peeled the back of her thighs off the linoleum, and brought it over. My turn. Rev. RC asked Lisa to keep the pipe lit for me.
I pulled the smoke into my mouth and blew it out first to the north, then to the northeast, and on around the compass. I had to, or Lisa actually had to, relight the pipe a few times before I could get all the way around.
The only time Rev. RC wasn’t on board with me was this moment. I finished smoking and was handing the pipe back to her when I noticed my cherry red lip gloss ring around the pipe’s stem. I had nothing to wipe it off with and when I noticed it was too late. She was already taking it from me.
Rev. RC zeroed in on my lip print, cocked her head, and shot me a look that could’ve slayed the spirits in our midst. She took a moment then mentioned, pointedly, how sacred the pipe is.
We sang a few more songs and then Rev. RC offered a spiritual balancing for just one of us. Not having a clue what this entailed, I deferred to Lisa. I thought if she busied Rev. RC with a balancing I could jet.
No such luck. I was asked to softly play the drum while Lisa laid down on a table and Rev. RC appeared to adjust her chakras. Do you know how hard it is to play a drum softly?
When it was finally all said and done Lisa seemed happy and balanced. Rev. RC mentioned an upcoming potluck and sweat lodge event. We made small talk about the problem of people who don’t spay and neuter their pets— I don’t know why that came up. I put five dollars in the donation jar. Then I got to leave.
Here’s what I learned from this…
1. Sacred ceremonies are sacred. If you’re not invited by the inside circle don’t force it. If you force it you’ll
find yourself sitting on a linoleum floor with a woman from Long Island who legally changed her name to Running Cub.
2. People make themselves vulnerable when they participate in spiritual ceremonies—especially when they offer up prayers for themselves and the people they love. Don’t fake a stomach flu in the face of this.
3. Be polite. Maybe this was sacred ceremony, maybe it wasn’t. If there are no safety concerns, an hour or two anywhere won’t kill you.
4. The best way to get a taste of Native American culture in Taos is to time your visit to mid July for the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow. It’s AMAZING. The photos sprinkled throughout this post were taken there on the night of The Grand Entry.
*Name changed but only slightly.