When looking back on our trip to Pine Ridge and wanting to try and make sense of the experiences I had, the process of understanding can be guided by our readings from class. One reading that specifically helped me to deconstruct and further comprehend my experiences was the Turner article “Ritual, Tribal, and Catholic”. The ideas he lays out about spiritual leaders and elders, flow, improvisation, and loss of ego all helped me analyze my experiences and further develop my interpretation of last week’s occurrences.
One of the ideas that Turner puts forward is that the spiritual leader is vital to the effectiveness of the ritual. He states that skill and dedication of a leader will help them serve as a vehicle for the believers (516). For example, when thinking about the sweat lodge on Tuesday night, Big Mike was the spiritual leader. I can honestly say that if he had not been the spiritual leader that night I would have had a completely different experience. We were also lucky enough to experience ceremonies led by both Big Mike and Little Mike. Big Mike and his way of channeling spirits and speaking with them gave his ceremony a specific impact on a few people in our class, including me. Also, Turner states that the absence of an elder can alter the ceremony or tradition. This was prevalent the first night at sweat when some community members said that they would just wait for the next sweat when Big Mike was going to lead it. The next sweat was very different for me because I was sitting next to Big Mike. Big Mike had a very distinct way of leading sweat that I was not used to because Little Mike had not led the same way the night before. My experience with the sweat ceremony would have been very different if Big Mike (the elder in the community) was not present (517).
Turner talked about how improvisation is important in ceremony because it is not always the same experiences are always different, especially when different members of the community lead them. The idea of ego loss in ceremony really resonates with me because during the sweat lodge I spent my time praying for others and being introspective. Through this self-reflection I was able to realize what my flaws were and find ways that I could work on them.
Although all of these points made by turner help me understand and reflect on my experience that night in sweat and the ceremonies at pine ridge on a larger scale, they do not explain the unique experiences that we all had; these academic attempts fall short because turner even says that improvisation is important meaning that things are never exactly alike, meaning that turners explanations will not always make sense for ever person that experiences one of these ceremonies.
There are some limitations while relying solely on personal experience because sometimes outside views or hearing other people’s experiences help open your eyes to an aspect of your own experience. For example, on that night in sweat when I heard Rock Boy’s voice I was extremely confused, scared and mad at myself for relying on my skepticism to explain this odd experience. For a whole day I stayed silent about this experience and continued my confusion by trying to make sense of it on my own. I was not able to do so until the next day when we had a class check-in and I heard people talking about the weird voice coming from Big Mike. This immediately comforted me and let me further understand that it was just part of the ritual when Big mike was the spiritual leader, that this spirit would come and talk to the women sitting close to him. Not solely relying on your personal experience is a good thing because by relying on the opinions and experiences of others it can help you reflect in a more productive way on your own personal experience.
If you solely rely on academic analysis you would not take your own experiences into consideration when reflecting on a ceremony. If you are reading about something it is very different from experiencing it first hand. Just as Turner states that it is important that a ritual include improvisation this is something that cannot be fully displayed in academic analysis because only a personal experience will talk about the specific improvisation occurring in a ceremony. Also there is an idea of flow presented in this reading that I can relate to because in the sweats there was definitely a feeling of flow. However, something that isn’t explained in the reading is the interruption of flow. For example, in one of the sweats I asked for water because the heat was getting to me; the dipper was passed around for people to drink out of and it did not return to its owner before the window started. This interruption caused the window to last a few minutes without the dipper even being used. This interruption caused a break in the flow for a moment, even if we did not all realize the interruption. This interruption is just another part of the improvisation that can happen in a ceremony’s flow.
One thought that I have been examining is this idea of the whole trip to Pine Ridge being a ritual and coming back to campus was leaving the ritual. This is interesting because thinking back on this one trip in which we experienced so many new things, it almost seems as if the trip was one continuous flow. Starting with the first tobacco prayer ceremony we did at Wounded Knee to the Yuwipi, the last ceremony we participated in, it seems as if we went from one to the next without much thought. We were all so open to trying and participating in these new experiences that they all flowed into each other because it was a continuous feeling of something new and trying to understand. Turner states “we experience it as a unified flowing from one moment to the next, in which we feel in control of our actions” (520). I think viewing the trip as a ritual and one continuous flow is a way to understand the weird sense of time that I felt when I was back at campus. In a flow, Turner states that time is hard to define from the past, present, and future. Being back on campus it was hard to place all of the events that occurred in Pine Ridge into a time frame. All of the ceremonies especially took on their own sense of time; it was hard to distinguish a 5-minute window in sweat from a window that felt like 30 minutes.
The reason that the sweat lodge on Tuesday was so monumental for me and my overall experience at Pine Ridge is that fact that I was sitting next to Big Mike. When this first happened I was very scared and hesitant to participate in the rest of the ceremonies planned for the remainder of the trip. As the trip progressed after that sweat I started to become more understanding that Big Mike was the elder in the community and the improvisations that caused me much fright in the sweat on Tuesday are what he is famous for. Big Mike’s ability to improvise during ceremony while still maintaining an intense flow is why he is so vital to the culture on Pine Ridge. Another aspect of Turner’s model that reconciled some of my fear about my experience with Rock Boy is that I was experiencing a loss of ego at the time it occurred. I was praying for members of my family and this comforted me in a weird way; I felt that a spirit would not have negative things to say to me if I was praying for others, this made me less scared of the voice I heard in sweat. That one sweat ceremony on Tuesday compared to the other ceremonies helped me realize how important improvisation and elders are, especially in ritual. The fact that I felt as if the trip was one continuous flow with no breathing time in between each experience is why it has been difficult this week to make sense of all that happened. But with the help of Turner and the other academic models we analyzed my trip started to make sense. Also important to my process of analyzing the occurrences of last week are the shared stories of my fellow classmates.