Using The Words Shaman and Shamanism

Using the Words Shaman and Shamanism
By Kathleen Dunbar

What do we name ourselves as practitioners of archetypal and energetic healing? I use the words shaman and shamanism to refer to myself and my healing practice. These are ancient words for an even older practice that spans virtually all the epochs of human existence. I want to be sensitive to the culture that offers these specific words. I want to be true to the universality of healing practices and use a word that is woven into the web of life. I’ve given a lot of thought to my personal decision, and thought I would share my perspective.

The specific forms of healing I have chosen to learn draw from healing practices that are archetypal rather than tribe-specific. I believe that healing and medicine arise both from human experience, and from culturally specific practices (which are also human, of course, but integrally woven into a specific peoples’ lives and stories). Culturally specific practices need to be honored and used only where gifted by a healer from that culture.

After a great deal of thought I have chosen to continue to use the word shaman as a descriptor. I have had transpersonal experiences since I was a young child that have lead me specifically to be called to this path and fulfill this calling, and which I honor by engaging in them. On a gut level this word has always resonated with me. Indeed, it is this word that called me to dive in and set upon this path a long time ago in a bookstore where I found Joan Halifax’s book Shamanic Voices calling out to me from the shelf.

The word shaman comes from the Tungus-speaking peoples of Siberia. This word began to come into common parlance in the western world in the 1960s when Mircea Iliade and other anthropologists described their observations of the Tungus people’s spiritual and healing practices. There began to be an interest in the western world for healing methods that were based upon ancient—and inherently human—practices that intertwine the human psyche, archetypes, stewardship of the planet, and “non-ordinary” states of consciousness. Personally, it feels to me that a magical door opened in Siberia to a world wracked by two wars that had engulfed the planet and that was hungering for raised consciousness.

I feel that a shaman or medicine person is one who continues to practice ways to be able to recognize and move the ego aside in order to access transpersonal states for the
benefit of healing. In these states the shaman offers him or herself up to Spirit to be guided in healing practices for a particular client and for community. I believe that the healing a client wants and is ready for is available to them, often on a not-so-conscious level, but one that their spirit is prepared for. I am the midwife that helps that birth-into-new-being take place, but ultimately they are the one doing the work, and having to continue to do the work once they go home.

I don’t know why this oddball gift was given to me! But it was, and I honor Spirit and my own higher being by using it to the best of my ability. Recently someone asked why I use the word shaman and practice shamanism if I am not an indigenous person. I want to honor the cultural practices of peoples by not claiming them and using them. I also want to honor what has been given to my spirit and heart and hands to do.

Medicine woman, midwife of the spirit, healer—these could be names I use (and sometimes I do call myself a Medicine Auntie) but I prefer the word shaman. I have my particular offerings in that regard, which are specific. It would be weird to me for a doctor not to want to call him or herself a doctor. I feel it appropriate to name myself as something and own that, while understanding my specialties and limitations (ie., when to refer to others with different specialities).

I thank the Tungus people for this word shaman, and no, I have not personally asked them if I could use this word that is probably pretty sacred to them. I want to continually understand my blinders regarding privilege. And, in a way that I can’t really put into words, that is the word that Spirit wants me to use.

I shared my thoughts with one of my dear shaman mentors, Jon Rasmussen, or Shaman Jon. The comment he added to my thoughts was really helpful for me, and clearly put into words what I have been feeling. I will include it here. Jon says,

“There is a word or set of words in every language to describe shaman, just as there is a word in every language for Soul, spirit, God, etc.  And at the same time, since humanity is now such a global village, it makes sense to use a single word, and I feel there is no better choice at this point than shaman.  Even my Q’ero teachers (who in Quechua would call themselves paqo for men, and laika for women) refer to themselves now with the word ‘shaman’ because of its accepted universality. I still have a note with Don Francisco’s phone number which he gave me where he wrote, ‘Francisco, Chaman Qeror.’ The people of Tungus can be proud that we consider the word in their language to represent that role across the globe.”

So it is in the spirit of universality, and with respect to the Tungus people, and to our huge global village, that I dedicate my practice as a shaman.

If you’d like to learn more about my healing practice, you can click this link: kathleendunbar.net

Also, I have made an album of original trance-ambient-world music to journey to, called Medicine Songs, by my alter ego Blue Lilah. I’m so delighted that it’s been nominated for Best World Music album in the soon-to-be-announced Just Plain Folks Music Awards. You can check out the music at this link bluelilah.com

Blessings, Kathleen

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar
Portrait Photography by Tamarind Free Jones

My ambient-trance album Medicine Songs is NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD!

My ambient, trance, journey music project—my CD entitled Medicine Songs by my shaman-singer pseudonym Blue Lilah has been nominated in TWO categories for the upcoming Just Plain Folks Music Awards!   

Brian Whitney, CEO and Founder of Just Plain Folks, writes of the nomination, “It’s a big deal: 17K albums and 240K songs were entered for the current awards, which cover the expanse of time since the last awards in 2009.”

  • Nominated for Best World Music Album is Blue Lilah’s album Medicine Songs by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews. TO LISTEN TO THE MEDICINE SONGS ALBUM and BUY IT click: https://bluelilah.com/store
  • Nominated for Best World Music Song is the song Bleyso from Blue Lilah’s album Medicine Songs by Kathleen Dunbar and Gawain Mathews. To LISTEN TO AND BUY BLEYSO click: Listen to Bleyso

Blue Lilah’s music is my offering to you to celebrate yourself in the dance that is the connection of all life. It is a gifting of my music, voice, energy, and sounds for your pleasure. It is my invitation to you, my listeners, to dive into a healing journey. Please use it in whatever forms “move” you!—Dance, meditation, journeying, relaxation, movement exploration, yoga, birthing, healing! Who is Blue Lilah? Imagine being taken on a journey in the dream language of a medicine woman, with luscious percussion, backwards guitar, a whale’s voice, a thunderstorm . . . and that’s just the first song!

Blue Lilah’s website is bluelilah.com

Photos by Tamarind Free Jones

Let Me Take You On A Journey!

A-Blue Lilah PageWho is Blue Lilah?

Imagine being taken on a journey in the dream language of a medicine woman, with luscious percussion, backwards guitar, a whale’s voice, a thunderstorm . . . and that’s just the first song!

Let Blue Lilah take you with her through sea deeps, windy deserts and wild jungles. She casts her enchanting spell for you from the healing dreamtime! Her magical vocals ride on the rhythms of ancestral drums, gorgeous guitar tendrils and big-heart-beat bass. 

Your invitation is awaiting . . . join her in an adventure in her wild world! Blue Lilah—enchanting, entrancing: new age-ambient-trance-journey music.

BL Bio 10-08-13Bio

Blue Lilah’s music is my offering to you to celebrate yourself in the dance that is the connection of all life. It is a gifting of my music, voice, energy, and sounds for your pleasure. It is my invitation to you, my listeners, to dive into a healing journey. Please use it in whatever forms “move” you!—Dance, meditation, journeying, relaxation, movement exploration, yoga, birthing, healing!

The inspiration for Blue Lilah arises out of my many years of exploration in healing work as both practitioner and recipient, as well as being a recording and performing musical artist. By healing, I mean those practices that transform us through awareness into more whole beings. Healing, for me, is the idiosyncratic and courageous willingness to entertain with as much compassion as we can muster all the guests that visit us daily: joy, fear, pain, love, boredom, anger. We heal when we are able to sit at the banquet and honor it all: Savor what is wonderful, weep for what is sad, laugh with delight and then clean up the plates and glasses and get up in the morning and do it all over again: cook, wash the dishes, play, create, work, dream, love—experiencing all of this makes us alive!

To fully participate in one’s lived life, I believe that consciousness asks us to simultaneously open heart-and-mind to wider perceptions while at the same time grounding the wide-flung doors to the awesome in divinely practical and magnificently ordinary acts of our bodies: being with the sensations of our bodies, using our hands to help and hold and express, using our legs, arms, muscles and hearts to dance, work, laugh, kiss, and joyously sing.

Some of the ways I’ve personally explored healing and transformation as a recipient and A-Blue Lilah Pageas a guide are: shamanic practices, biodynamic cranial-sacral work, Jungian and archetypal exploration, energy work, dance, experiential psychotherapy, trauma work, Mind-Body Integration, sand tray, wilderness quests, Continuum movement practices, and lots and lots of Music! I honor the riches I’ve received from all my teachers and all my lineages. They are present in the music I make and I thank them!

A “word” about my language in the songs you hear! I am a storyteller. I’ve made poems since I could speak—please check out my blog at kathleendunbarblog.com. In the Blue Lilah project, instead of telling a story with English words, I was drawn to listen in to what tones, vibrations, emotions, and expressions wanted to be sung, and to channel the Sounds themselves into the story they wanted to tell. Using such a “language” you are free to intuit your own meanings and bring your own associations. I want you, my listeners, to make up your own stories to what you hear, so that you are drawn in to your own discoveries and explorations. The songs are deliberately long enough for a hearty journey.

The “songs” came to me in a variety of ways. There were nights at home at 1:00 A.M. pouring out my numerous voices into Garageband as a rough draft, later working it out and practicing with my little Oxygen keyboard, and finally polishing it up in the studio. Other sections are inspired live jams in the studio with my awesome multi-instrumentalist producer and guitarist, Gawain Mathews. His creative hand is, literally, in all the instruments you hear: guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, shakers. In this particular album he makes his debut at professionally whistling into bottles—he enthusiastically granted my whim, filled up a root beer and a fancy water bottle with the right amount of liquid to get two perfectly pitched notes, and “played” the thus-made instrument superbly as accompaniment to my singing. Such inventiveness and humor inform our creative adventures. Being a good sport, before embarking on one new track, Gawain agreed to let me lead him on a guided meditation. He lay comfortably under a soft blanket on the rug in his cozy kitchen as I drummed on my hand drum (which you will hear in the song) and his journey washed him up on a mythical shore where some tribal acoustic folk welcomed him into their musical circle. He was happy to join them, provided they allowed him to play his electric guitar, and do it his way. It is our good fortune that they agreed. At the end of Gawain’s journey we had a proper cup of tea (he is British, and so are my grandparents) and embarked on the song, Medicine Journey. Go spirits! Gawain and I have known one another through many years of musical adventures in another genre. This album is my dive into my inner world to manifest it for you all and take you with me on my musical adventure. Gawain is a prolific producer, multi-instrumentalist, dear friend, amazing musician, and not surprisingly, the current guitarist for the touring Mickey Hart Band.

Blue LIlah 10-08-13Another “back story.” The few words I use in “English” that begin Who Holds The Power were given to me in a dream when I was in my mid-twenties—I awoke remembering the words, and also the invitation that came with them—I knew the verses were a riddle and an answer to the riddle, though the meaning was deliciously elusive and has been a guide to me to dive further into myself to understand it. The riddle for me has pointed to a way of life, a work in progress, a trajectory for Kathleen! I invite you to dive into your own riddle and all the wonderful messiness, high artistry, and joy of living that is wonderfully, idiosyncratically you.

who hold the power
to turn the key
that opens the three stones
who holds the power?

standing in the shadow
my cupped hand holds darkness
turning to the east
I bend my shadow low

Why Blue? My ancestors were The Blue People—the Picts and Scots who painted themselves blue. I have been known to be blue from head to toe, inviting my friends to celebrations at Ocean Beach. I did this “back when”—I was blue way before The Blue Man Group and Avatar got popular.

The smile on my mouth right now is the beautiful flower of the feeling I have in gifting you with these songs. It is the expression of my beating heart, my breathing lungs, my outstretched hand. It is strengthened by love, watered by tears, nurtured by touch, deepened with receiving, and widened by giving. Here, my loves, is an offering of my songs for you to journey with into the ever-creative expression of yourself in this wild life!

Links
bluelilah.com
facebook.com/BlueLilah
youtube.com/bluelilahmusic
Kathleen Dunbar’s Blog
Gawain Mathews Music Studio
Cover Photo by Lorene Garrett
Album Photos by Tamarind Free Jones Photography

Blue Lilah 10-18-13

Big Thanks to the Dinee People!—A Visualization to Blow Your Mind!

A-Pollen Poem 10-01-13

Here’s a peek into my “Day Job” (which I love!) as an experiential psychotherapist! 

I came upon this extraordinary piece of “medicine” in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. This “poem” is an utter gem from a longer healing work and very sacred story of the Dinee (Navajo) People. I began to use it as part of my spiritual practice. I’d do my usual going inside into a meditative state while listening to music (I am, after all, a musician, and music is a main vehicle for me to meditate). And then I’d ever-so-slowly inwardly repeat the medicine poem. From the first time I’ve done this, I’ve always had extraordinary experiences—profound expansion, groundedness, peace, awe at life, delight, love. My body released its aches as I felt nourished by a deep sense of aliveness flowing through me.

I began applying my experience as an offering for the clients in my psychotherapy practice. When a client expresses a longing for a greater experience of Self, a transpersonal thirst, an awakening of personal and universal truth, I suggest an exploration: “I have an idea! How about a visualization! It’s based on a poem from the Dinee people. First I’ll introduce you to one of the words they use, so you can bring your own experience to it. Then I’ll recite the poem several times and you can see where it takes you!”

With the client’s agreement, I ask them to close their eyes and send them inside to their best poem-listening-to place. First I invoke their response to the word “pollen” as the Dinee use it:

I begin, “In this poem the Dinee use the word ‘pollen.’ For them, pollen isn’t the make-you-sneeze stuff. For them, pollen is the life source, and the pollen path is the path to the center. Pollen for them is corn pollen, and it has a very sacred story. . .

“. . . Let yourself imagine a field of corn, tended by the people of the village. When the people see the corn, they see an amazing story, for corn is one plant that needs human hands to help it grow. In fact, corn will die without humans to help it. If a corn cob falls into a field the kernels cannot make it through the tough husk to resprout—they need to be taken by human hands and planted. Long ago corn did not have the shape it does today, it was small and wild, and in order to feed the people, they learned how to bring the corn to the form we know now. The Dinee people see the growing of corn as a pact between the human and the divine. The source of life shows up in the corn, but it must be tended to by human hands in order to be used . . .

“. . . So the people of the village are alive with this amazing gift. In the corn they find the magical bridge between oneness and diversity, between the sublime extraordinary and the magnificent ordinary. It’s the story of the connection of infinite and finite. It’s the sacred dance of oneness and duality. For the Dinee, the life source gives the people the food to feed them, and the people receive it and use their hands and wisdom to plant and harvest. But it’s much more than that—it’s the story of the creation and life, and a way of right relationship with all things. It’s a lived acknowledgement of the kind of partnership that makes a deeply lived life possible. The symbol of this partnership is the pollen of the corn, where it all happens. The Dinee always save the corn pollen and use it in ceremony . . .

“. . . Let yourself see the people of the village gathering the corn pollen, and how in their hands they gather the meeting of the divine and the human. They celebrate a sacred event where life force manifests its connection with the earthly. The divine and the human come together, not only to feed the people of the village, but to nourish their spirits with the great sacred story of life. . .

“. . . So that is a little of what the word pollen signifies in this medicine poem. And now let yourself feel into that word pollen, and feel into the experiences from your own life that resonate—how you are longing for that sacred dance, or the times in your life that you have experienced the meeting of the two, and the sacred story. And like all good stories, let it be beyond your mind to understand, let the understanding come from your heart.”

Then I invite the client to take a few deep breaths, settle into their chair, and give me a nod when they are ready. I then, really slowly, recite the poem several times . . . and wait.

Put your feet down with pollen.
Put your hands down with pollen.
Put your head down with pollen.
Then your feet are pollen;
your hands are pollen;
your body is pollen;
your mind is pollen;
your voice is pollen.
The trail is beautiful.
Be still.

I am always astonished at the response this poem evokes! Clients experience a profound, grounding, uplifting, expanding access to the Self connected to the Web of Life. It is always extraordinary and lasting—something we often refer to in future sessions. For one client it was a deep turning point in the therapy.

As a variation, after I speak about the pollen, I put on some trippy music, let the client listen for a while, and begin to repeat the poem several times while the music is playing, letting the effects of the poem and the music take the listener on a journey.

Of course I am giving only a very abbreviated version of what pollen holds for the Dinee, a little sketch of a great spiritual treasury. I honor their wonderful ways. I thank the Dinee and their medicine people for their wisdom and generosity in gifting us with these sacred words. Here is a good resource to learn more about The Pollen Path: Source of the Sacred: Navajo Corn Pollen

For some trippy music to journey by, please listen to my just released Blue Lilah trance-journey-new age CD Medicine Songs. I’m happy to share my music. Find it at bluelilah.com

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar, Mono Lake Area

A-Pollen Poem 10-01-13A-Pollen Poem 10-01-13

Blue Lilah is Here!

A-Blue Lilah Promo 05-21-13The CD art is in the done . . .
The CD is mastered . . .
And the website is up! Find her at www.bluelilah.com  

Let Blue Lilah take you on a luscious journey with her new world music CD “Medicine Songs” Here’s a tantalizing dip into one of the songs! 

Video by Kathleen Dunbar
Photos by Tamarind Free Jones

Blue Lilah is Here! Join Her On A Magical Musical Journey!

Blue Lilah is Here!
How about a succulent musical dive under the sea with 
the wild sea witch inviting you to dance deep with her among the corals
and the fishes and her long armed octopus friends.
And that’s only one song!

A-Blue Lilah Promo-05-07-13

Blue Lilah is Here!
Experience the Journey at www.bluelilah.com

A-Blue Lilah Promo-05-07-13

Be Beguiled, Bewitched, Becharmed

What Kind of Person Would Beat You With A Bible?

A-Red Cow 2 of 2 Red Bible Story

Yes, I am writing a Western, in my own fashion. Here is a glimpse into some of the beginnings of our hero, Nate.

What kind of person would beat you with a bible? Nate never really understood, he just somehow lived through the wretched and frequent ordeal.

The bible was one with a red cover that had started out as the hide of a cow that lived the life a cow lives, born of a mother like all creatures, growing in the dark from the egg of a black Corriente of venerable stock and the seed of a skinny but tough bull who mounted her the morning a storm was coming. The storm would bring a tornado with it and the bull would die caught up in a twist of wind that did not yield to his horns and hooves and scrubrange attitude. But the sky was yet blue while he eyed the cow in a clearing that afforded him a bit of running room for his approach. She had been chewing her cud in the shade of a rock that was weathered into the shape of a giant tit. Both felt the shift in the weather as an unease in the tough muscles beneath their hides, but this only served to hasten the bull’s purpose, as if he knew he had only one last chance to set more of his progeny to roaming upon the desert hardpan. The pre-storm morning was unusually still and clear, the charged air acting like a glass of magnifying power so that the distant range loomed large and close, the striations of the rock heaved up in ancient frozen waves as he met the cow with the spurting force of creation an hour before his demise. Above the trysting site a cactus bulged with thorn. A small hummingbird sat distinct on its bent and thorny arm and sent a fussy high pitched tip-tip in the direction of the amorous pair.

The bull and the cow were wild, that is untouched by men, and living out a plain life in a dry stretch of country not unlike that of their forebears on another continent who were plenty used by men, long ago gone for Spanish dinners and leatherwork. This cow and bull had been part of old Spanish-Mex stock whose hardscrabble owner had fallen on bad times: a lack of heirs and a wife who had gone off with a passing stranger. The stranger arrived asking for a drink of water in a coat of fancy stitching with two shining conchos to clasp it shut. He had handsome legs, a large mustache, and a big red horse with room on its back for a second rider. Both he and the horse were flashy enough to promise a bit of excitement and both sturdy enough to bear away the plump and bored wife. She left her husband late that night. He felt her move in the bed and reached out to pat her rump which she deftly moved away from his hand. Her last words to him were that she had to use the privy, and farted on him as she slid from the covers as if to prove it. The next day he was alone in the house fingering the brim of the hat he had worn since they’d been married. The spell that had held him to that place was broken. He was gone by afternoon, riding away in a different direction from the tracks of his wife and her new lover, and his puny herd were left to a freedom which perhaps they didn’t perceive in their beeve-brains. They bred and ate and roamed wild along the years till the parents of the bible-destined cow met on the morning of the tornado. The two creatures had paired and parted, and the impregnated cow stood in the lee of the tit-rock and watched across the range as the bull spun into a gray funnel of wind and was gone.

The calf came in the spring, and when grown was rounded up with her mother by a man whose brand was a sideways S and a bar with a hatch. He favored a Mexican saddle with a high cantle because his lower back was apt to hurt—the cantle offered some ease to an injury he’d sustained in a bar brawl landing backwards hard against the knee of a whore who later that night gave him balm for his trouble in the form of cheap whiskey and a free screw.

The man felt fortunate to increase his herd with some wild stock. Later he seared his brand into the flesh of the young calf, who screamed her bovine misery, stood, and scrambled back to her mother. At the end of the season, along with the rest of the herd she had joined, she was shipped on a rattling train bound for Chicago. There she became dinner for a loud young newspaperman and his fiancée at a stylish restaurant. Her hide, which lasted much longer than her flesh, was sold to a bookbinder. He dyed the leather red and fashioned it into the cover of a bible which he placed temptingly in his shop window. There it caught the eye of one Adabelle Cornelia Pettypool.

Adabelle had read a bible her whole life, and the meanings she made out of it and out of life took the shine off her natural prettiness, and invested her with a flat low grade fury. What she never fully allowed herself to comprehend was that the fury she felt was towards her own father. Lonely for his wife who had died of a sudden heart complaint, he turned to his daughter to supply his need. There was a way her mind had split so that she could know that thing and not know it in the same moment, and it left her looking for evil in everyone but him, whom she idealized. To make matters more confusing for her, her father was a minister, mixed up thoroughly in a Methodist sect bound to rescue people out of a darkness that meanwhile he created at his whim in his own home.

Whatever illusions Adabelle may have had about comforting her father, as he put it, ended when she found herself pregnant. Desperate, she rid herself of the child with the help of a doctor she’d met accompanying her father on his ministrations to the local brothel. There were complications, and poor Ada nearly died. Her father gave out that she’d had a bad case of the grippe, but the working ladies at Alviva’s Parlor House dropped a few words to some patrons they had in common with the minister, though their ministrations were of a different order. Word spread and the parishioners soon knew the truth and stopped coming to Sunday service. Her father told Adabelle to pack their belongings.

On the day of their departure she rose early and opened her father’s collection box as it stood among suitcases and bundles on a table with the remains of their last Chicago breakfast. She looked him in the eye and said, “I am doing this one thing for myself.” He looked out the window and began to hum loudly Elvina Hall’s popular new hymn, Jesus Paid It All. Adabelle took only the money she needed and left briskly for the bookseller with the red bible in his window display. It was a thing she’d been yearning after for weeks, and which she had fixed upon during her terrible illness. Her reasons for buying it were not clear to her, except that it was something of her own, which she could hold in her hand and that was not tainted with her family. At the time that seemed enough. The red bible was one of Adabelle’s choice possessions, and she kept it close to her own person on the long journey south, until it landed with all the power her arm could give upon a small boy’s body.

Her father’s public excuse for their move, which he shared with any person who would listen to him on trains, stages, and in cheap hotel restaurants, was that he had been called in a vision to save Whites, Mexicans, Indians, cowboys, gunslingers, fallen women and other numerous recreants in the wild cattle town of Abilene, Kansas. With a knowing look he’d lean in towards his audience at this point, saying in a deep voice that the word “Abilene” had appeared to him in a dream upon a burning map. In his private moments he was relieved to have gotten out of Chicago before things turned ugly. He happened to see the name of the Kansas cowtown in a newspaper close on the heels of some threats from a burly former-parishioner who’d just come around the corner from Alviva’s Parlor House. He prayed that he might ride the current tide of do-gooding into heaven. Whether he arrived at that final destination or was held to account for what he’d done to his daughter and shown the door to the lower quarters, no one could say for sure. His preaching frenzy did not bring in many sheep. He was not a popular man in a town given to excess of every sort and soon took a perhaps-not-so-stray bullet from a bar fight that had spilled over onto the street. He lived long enough to look down with wonder as the stuff of his life leaked out of him, reddening his hands. He was dead before the doctor and his daughter arrived along with curious onlookers. Among the crowd was Nate’s father, in Abilene from his ranch in Texas on a cattle drive. He cast his eye upon Adabelle, perhaps in much the same way the bull had spotted the cow, wanting to set more of his progeny walking on the Texas range. Ada appeared likely. Nate’s father seemed to collect pretty women in need of help, scooping them up and depositing them in his big ranch home, then disappearing for months at a time on business. His first three wives had died and he missed them all in a distant and romantic sort of way. And so he met and rescued Adabelle from the debris of the minister’s life and made her his fourth wife with the blessing of a Baptist preacher in a church that stood handily on the way out of town.

Nate’s father was charming; an older man but fit and active and his ranch business provided a good income. Adabelle was hopeful for the first time in her life. His sons by his first and second wives were grown and gone, and Nate, the child of his third, and Indian wife, was young; in need, he said, of more brothers and sisters. Nate’s father, in his bull way, wanted a big family like the one he’d grown up in and Adabelle aimed to make a family different than her own. But it turned out that the sad fiasco with her father had injured her, and she could not bear a child. This sapped the juices from her prettiness and left her dry and brittle of temperament, turning to the red bible more than ever. Nate’s father was at home less and less, and Nate and the ranch hands came to know Adabelle as the dour and vindictive woman who had no Christian spirit—at least nothing in the last part of the red book she bought in Chicago had Christ laying into a small child for simply having the brown face of his mother and his tribe (Christ probably being pretty brown himself), although the first part of the story had the old desert god laying into plenty of people with apparent satisfaction. And so it was that Nate’s stepmother felt a deep release in beating the boy, leaving welts on his back and a scar on his cheek where the small diamond of the ring her faraway husband gave her cut the boy in the fury she unleashed because she could have no child of her own and must raise this one, product of her husband and his dead tribal woman. Where she might have found a larger life, she could not see it because no kind soul had ever shown her how to have a bigger perspective. She dried up in the smallest of possible worlds—inside a broken, shrunk, unloved and unloving heart. Being of an active nature, she was given to expressing the terrible electric current of her feelings, rather than wasting quietly away. The bible—the object itself, not the philosophy therein—was her weapon against more grief than she could inwardly bear: she took to beating Nate.

And so the cow, dead and taken into parts, had become the unwitting cover that bound together the words of a deity Nate never got to have a feeling for. Adabelle’s blows rained down hard upon his small boy’s body, unrelenting, and with a venom increasing as did her stepson’s unwillingness to bend to her or to her religion. Such was Nate’s life when his father was away from home, which was most of the time. Bruised and lonely, he thought longingly of his own brown-faced mother who had died while he was a babe. And his feelings towards the red bible were, “What a waste of a good cow.”
© Kathleen Dunbar

Here’s a poem set to music, another western-with-a-twist, on my new CD The Storm in Our Head. It’s called “Snake Charmer.” Find it on Bandcamp or on my website, www.kathleendunbarmusic.com

Photos by Kathleen Dunbar

A-Red Cow 1 of 2 Red Bible Story