Ceremony Reflections

Self-critique requires a high level of self-awareness and subtlety. In these essays, course participants describe ways in which academic attempts explain experience as well as ways in which experience is provides a useful critique of religious studies.

One Response to Ceremony Reflections

  1. Sam Winton says:

    The day trip to Bear Butte, our hike up the mountains ridge, and our participation in ceremony and prayer at the peak left me with lingering questions about myself, my purpose, and my controversial involvement with the Lakota people of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Feeling of uncertainty as well as many unanswered thoughts regarding my existence in this world began to present themselves as I started my decent down the mountain. Why am alive? Why do I find myself immersed in this unfamiliar culture that has been beaten and destroyed by people of my own ancestry? Why do I feel a deep and unexplainable connection to the Lakota people? And finally, what was the purpose of us meeting a random woman on Butte’s peak, what drove her to participate in ceremony with us, and what drove her to the mountain anyway? In trying to make some sense of these questions I arrived at the conclusion that they may be a part of a bigger question and even larger understanding.

    Smith’s critique on coincidence and its presence in ritual helps explain my experience and provides me with a starting point upon which I can evaluate my personal qualms. The case of coincidence I am referring to is the interaction with the white woman we met and shared ceremony with. I did not understand that our meeting her was in fact significant until the end of our trip when we discussed the presence of god and the power and influence it has, that of which often comes in the form of coincidence or unexplainable related occurrences. At the end of our pipe ceremony, I over heard the woman thanking Mike for his hospitality and acceptance of her in his ceremony. She leaned in and thanked him and then told him to wait for her at the base of Butte because she had something in her camper that she had been holding onto. She told Mike she did not know why she had held onto this object but that after meeting him and participating in ceremony, an answer presented itself to her and it was only then that she knew what to do. Hearing this triggered my initial thoughts regarding odd occurrences and I questioned my own belief. At that point I still didn’t know what the woman had to give to Mike Jr. but at the same time I got this vibe that it was going to be of some significance. Whether what happened was actually holy or not remains a mystery to me but I still can’t explain this energy I felt which sparked my initial engagement and furthered my exploration into the realm of coincidence.

    As I rode with Mike and Justin down the road leading away from Bear Butte she waved to us and walked up to our truck with an envelope. She thanked Mike, bid us a safe journey and left. Inside the envelope was a beautiful letter of thanks, her contact information, and a beautiful picture of Crazy Horse. This is the coincidence I am referring to. It relates and applies to the examples Smith analyzes throughout his essay.
    Smith’s opening statements in his essay provided me with some understanding of coincidence, its place and meaning from an academic stand point, and its relative presence in ritual or in our case, the events a that transpired atop Bear Butte proceeding our pipe ceremony. Smith starts, “:… :the thrill of encountering coincidence. The discovery that two events, symbols, thoughts, or texts, while so utterly separated by time and space that they could not “really” be connected, seem, nevertheless, to be the same or to be speaking directly to one another raises the possibility of a secret interconnection of things that is the scholar’s most cherished article of faith.” (Smith 53.)
    Smith’s use of the words thrill and discovery establish and encompass his own views of coincidence. By incorporating feeling, Smith bridges a gap that, to me, some scholarly critiques fail to represent or incorporate when analyzing religion and the purpose of ritual. This disregard for “feeling” can make it hard for a reader to understand or relate to an essay because as readers, we relate a discussed topic with our own incorporation of experience and the feelings we encountered during that event. For scholarly writers analyzing the powers of ritual, just critiquing a ceremony is not enough and does not do that particular ritual and the understanding of ritual justice because it leaves out us or the key players in the event.

    Understanding the meaning of coincidence in everyday life as well as in ritual is, in itself, mere comprehension of the relationship between life and ritual and the cause and effect the two have on each other. In other words, ritual is designed for the subjects engaging and acting within the ceremony because by being human, we each bring our own past experiences and our own feelings as we join together in a common practice. What ritual aims to do is draw the subjects concentration to a place where it can reach an understanding of itself, its environment, and its purpose both of itself and its’ actions within the environment during the time that elapses during ceremony. To me it seems that coincidence and meaning go hand in hand, they are two sides of the same coin. Meaning is nothing without coincidence and vise versa. As humans, we create meaning through past experience and relate a variety of meanings to a variety of experiences. As we live we are subject to new experiences and draw meaning to those based on our already influenced past. Smith agrees that coincidence is not without meaning, I believe coincidence is the spawn of meaning that only presents itself during the time of any relatable occurrence. As humans, I think we first make these connections on a subconscious level, only later do we realize the significance of the occurrence as we draw and create a new relationship. This understanding is at the heart of Smiths critique and helps me come to terms with lingering questions of why I hold this strange connection and familiarity to Lakota people despite the amount of guilt and sorrow I feel towards them and the ever present fact that this was my first experience of their culture an people. Perhaps we were destined to experience Pine Ridge, maybe our trip was justified and maybe if I believe in this feeling of purpose than in reality the purpose will be justified. But was our experience justified and would the people of the culture we became part for a week not agree? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that the creator brings people together despite their differences for the common purpose of an enlightenment that is achieved by the group as a whole but that is arrived at in many different by people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures.

    Meeting that woman on Butte was “no coincidence”. As we entered the parking lot at the mountains’ base and ate lunch we subjected ourselves to the mountains power. We had entered a sacred place, we were being led by sacred medicine people, and we were going to perform a sacred ritual. As I ate my sandwich I felt the presence of the mountain, I felt a sense of belonging, like I had a purpose for being there and it was the place that gave me this feeling. Smith’s account of significance in the temple works as a lens for my own experience. “When one enters a temple, one enters marked-off space in which, at least in principle, nothing is accidental; everything, at least potentially, is of significance.” (Smith 54.)

    If according to Smith, in this situation nothing is accident, is meeting the woman atop Butte destiny, fate, or just one of the many things the mountain could have thrown at us to engage us or stimulate us into looking toward an inner purpose? The mountain taught me the most that day, more than what Mike or any teacher for that matter could have explained to me. Here we are white privileged students in the midst of an unfamiliar and alien culture and at the one of the cultures most important peaks our walk of life interacts with the path of another white person who is there for the same reasons we are: the experience, the hike, the view, the feeling of standing on a mountain, the feeling of being alive, the willingness to attempt immersion into another peoples way of life. This woman acted as our foil. I relate her to the leopards Smith discusses that drink from the sacred water and in doing so, become part of the ritual. In relation to our trip, the leopards are the other hikers who now hike Bear Butte anyone who hikes Butte sees the mountain and wishes to walk it. In the same way that the Leopards see the water and go and drink, people seek to hike. They do it because it is there to do. The hikers therefore become part of the ceremony. The ceremony occurs daily as people hike; some leaving prayer ties at the peak. It was wise of Mike Jr. to accept the woman into our ceremony in the same way that it was wise of the leader of the temple to allow the leopards to return and drink. He asked and she accepted and despite her randomness and “whiteness” passed the pipe correctly and without being told, offered prayer, blessings, and an offering to Mike who led the ceremony. Her offering was relevant to Mike and his cause and even though I only sat in the back of the truck and observed took meaning from the event.

    The interaction between the woman and Mike gave me a sense of purpose and helped me understand the meaning behind our ritual. During the pipe ceremony I tried to put meaning into the rituals I participated in but I had trouble doing so. Upon leaving the mountain I finally came to a realization about what I had just experienced. I had to do it before I could understand. Seeing the woman’s offering allowed me to draw meaning to ritual. The ritual was why we had come and it only showed us what we had already brought along as we saw what it had to offer. Because we shared this experience, I was able to create a sense of purpose because I had allowed myself to fall subject to everything and everyone around me.

    I may be rambling and digressing but I find all the information I incorporate from our story to be relevant. I think that Smith would agree. “There is nothing that is sacred within itself, only things sacred in relation.” (Smith 55.) To me this quote sums up my purpose and reason for taking this course. The mountain taught me that life is precious we are all just specs of dust colliding with and bouncing off of each other. To me, the white woman with the postcard of Crazy Horse was coincidence, but the interaction that took place between Mike and the white lady wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I hadn’t been around to experience it.

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