Me at Castlerigg, Cumbria

Once upon a time my family participated in a group who practiced Native American ceremonial ways. There were sweat lodges, the main focus, but also charity work, dream work and, at Christmas time, a give-away.

The people involved were, for the most part, wonderful but because this was a spiritual thing and I was trying hard to work through some of my bullshit, there is one thing that I need to *say* regarding the give-away, because I was cut-off every time I tried to say during the ceremony.

A give-away ceremony, for those who don’t know, (at least in this context) was a time to give away something that you deeply value in order to open up a path for more goodness and something of greater value to come into your life. Generally speaking, these give-aways should be things that were difficult to part with, things that you really wanted to keep. A sacrifice was in order, not of blood but of material goods–something our current culture values even more than blood.

Some of the participants really got it. Others, not so much. One year my 4 year old daughter took her one-legged, stuffed elephant. This was a huge deal. What she originally wanted to take was her stuffed dog but by the time this rolled around I was too jaded to allow her to make that sacrifice, the giving away of her closest, most loved companion. I forced her into relinquishing second best. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve always held onto things that are of great monetary value, rather than let them go. At the first give-away I proffered an antique turquoise necklace. This was very difficult to let go of, though it really did need to be set free. The reasons it needed to be set free are these: it was a gift from a lover long gone; it made me feel sad and angry; it was a thing of beauty and delicacy laying unwanted and unworn. The biggest reason it was difficult for me to let go of though was that the damned thing was worth a thousand dollars.

You see, I have this weird sort of feast or famine mentality. Maybe part of this is because the strongest woman I ever knew and my one, constant, female role model was my maternal Grandmother who raised a brood during the Great Depression. She was frugal to the point where she rinsed paper towels and tin foil and hung them up to dry and reuse. Part of it is just a soul-deep need to make sure I have everything I need just in case the worst happens and because I was raised in a cash culture, money is something I would need and that turquoise necklace was worth a whole lot of it.

So when it was handed out by some cute little child that year, I wanted to talk about my issues with money and wanting to hang onto things that don’t matter, just the way the money is really not the thing of final value in life. But no, I was cut-off, talked over, the ceremony moved on. Someone else gave away a picture they grabbed off the wall before leaving home because it ‘called to them’. Another gave some coffee. Each of them was allowed to finish their story before the process moved forward.

The next year I brought a fringed, leather jacket. I had paid $400 for it when I was 20 years old. Let’s see, that would have been 1984. The jacket was still in beautiful condition, perfect, soft, with beadwork and long, jangling fringe. It had been too small for me for 20 years but I hung on for dear life, as though I would shrink back to a size 8 just so that I could wear that coat. The reasons that needed to go were: it symbolized a very strong cultural tendency that I had absorbed to brainwash myself into believing that I needed to be and would one day again, be very thin; it was symbolic of a desire to externalize my inner rebel so that the world could acknowledge it; it showed a desire to be something I never would be–an Indian–yet, somehow, the irony of that message wasn’t clear to me at the time. Again, it was also about the money. If the worst happened, that could could not only be used to stay warm, it could be cut into strips for binding splints, for sewing shoes, hell, it could BE a pair of nice moccasins. Tall ones!

Again, when I made the effort to explain the reasons why this was of such deep and abiding value to me, I was cut off and the ceremony moved on. Again, the others were allowed to finish speaking their peace.

Don’t get me wrong, not everyone gave stupid things like coffee or crystals they had picked up at the rock and gem shop that morning. There were some very deep and meaningful treasures offered, in my judgment and let’s face it, that’s all I’ve got.

The last year we went I decided that rather than offering something meaningful to me, I would take something impress the crowd and see how that went over. It was still a heartfelt gift, given in hopes of pleasing the recipient as well as those who didn’t want to hear about my fears of doing without, about how deeply difficult it is for me to give up these things. And this time they were pleased. I brought a deer skull, clean, a 7 pointer (a sacred number in many spiritually inclined circles), surrounded by the makings of prayer ties, ceremonially gathered cedar and desert sage, all on a bed of red muslin.

This last gift was the only time we participated when I was allowed to speak my full piece. I’m sure the idea previously was that I would brag about how much I had spent. I’m *sure* of it. The looks of disgust… The rude cutting off of my explanation behind the gifts…And in the end the acceptance of a gift that was of little meaning to me besides what was in finally receiving approval for giving something appropriate.

For many years I’ve carried this anger inside me. This feeling that I was judged unfairly and that those who I considered myself heart-bound to made me into something and someone I wasn’t. We have long-since walked away from participating for myriad reasons and it was a positive thing, this walking away. The need for closure on this issue still sits inside of me, or it did. This post is written in hopes that finally having my say will clear it.

Peace be with you
Síochán leat

About Bettina Colonna Essert

Illuminated Magdalene High Priestess and facilitator of empowerment and healing circles for girls and women, including a monthly Red Tent Temple. BA in English, minor in anthropology. Waldorf homeschool mom. Reiki master, cranial sacral therapist, herbalist, menstruvist, feminist, epicurian.
This entry was posted in activism, decency, festivals, health and well-being, Mark, Martina, personal. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Potlach

  1. T says:

    I know you don’t expect replies…but, I have to because you’ve given me so much as a friend.
    Believe me, on those give-away occassions long ago, you accomplished exactly what you set out to do, and more. I know very few people who give from the heart the way you do, and have always done. They didn’t “get it” because their eyes were closed…that’s their problem to work on…you were offering them an opportunity to “see” that truth with your silent gifts.
    I’m glad you let that anger/frustration out….maybe it will indirectly release them to not only receive the meaning of your gifts of heart, but to recognize others when they come along.

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