MEETING MIRACLE, THE LIVING LEGEND
Little Sacred One by Ron Mitchell, Cherokee
Stories inspire me, they always have. Those handed down through the generations often obtain mythical stature. One assumes the retellings may have embellished whatever truth the tale originally contained. There is no guarantee of reality. Still, I listen.
Old stories offer explanations for things unknown or misunderstood; they provide answers to questions that have puzzled humanity for ages. But if they can’t be proven, how will readers, seekers of knowledge, ever know what is or was or may be true? Can fact be separated from fiction, reason from legend? In today’s world can meaning be found in mythology?
I ask these questions because I think I met a living legend. She stood at our first meeting in a muddy pen surrounded by several dusty brown beasts just like Her. Thousands of people, ranging from the religiously reverent to the merely curious, had come to gaze at Her before I saw Her in the Summer of 1995. By that time, she had lost the snowy fur of her infancy.
I’d made the sojourn to Her farm after reading about Her on the pages of the Washington Post. But She was not an every-day news item. She was Miracle, the White Buffalo of Janesville, Wisconsin. To some Native Americans, a White Buffalo is a sacred being, a stature earned through Her role in tribal history. Miracle was born in the early morning hours of August 20, 1994 and died September 19, 2004. Her father died shortly after She was born. The Medicine Men who know about such things say his departure so soon after Her arrival was in accordance with Her prophesies. But I don’t know of ancient forecasts for Her life or the future. I experienced Her in the present and that was enough for me. The time I spent with Her changed my life. It left me feeling blessed by Her mystery. I’ve spent several years trying to tell the tale of the only part of Her truth that I understand.
Her legend, handed down from the time when the Lakota people followed herds of bison across the prairies, is premised upon an understanding of how those life-sustaining mammals provided everything native peoples needed to survive: Their hides were cured for shelter and clothing, their meat consumed for sustenance. Bones and sinew became tools for hunting and internal organs were used as carrying pouches. The presence of the animal on the plains predates human existence. Thus, it is understandable that the people dependent upon them for survival were certain their own demise would follow their disappearance. And when the buffalo had become scarce and the people were famished, their hope was in two young braves sent from camp to search for traces of a herd.
The young men walked for days. Weak from hunger, they no longer trusted their vision when they saw a cloud forming on the horizon. Was it a rain cloud or only their imagination? It appeared to be moving toward them and they stopped to watch it float across an otherwise lucid sky. Instead of passing over them, the cloud descended before them. As it touched the earth, they stared in disbelief as a beautiful maiden appeared in the midst of the mist and stepped out of the haze. When Her feet touched the ground, the vapor vanished.
The respectful messenger returned to his village and informed the elders of the maiden’s manifestation. They began preparations for Her visit which included the construction of a ceremonial tent. Four days later, She arrived on foot and stood before the villagers. Greeting them, She presented the parcel cradled in her arms to the elders. They thought She held a baby; but when the coverlet was removed, the startled chiefs saw a smoking pipe for the first time. The woman explained the symbolism contained in Her gift: how the bowl represented the earth yet the smoke that came out of it would reach the heavens. She taught the men about its spiritual significance; words spoken in the presence of the pipe must be honored because they would be known by the Great Spirit.
The Holy Woman met with the village women and explained how important the care and nurture of the children were to the welfare of their society. When She had finished speaking, the women understood that the work they did was just as essential to the survival of their nation as the braves’ hunting expeditions. The community was admonished to give thanks for the bounty of the earth, to celebrate the sustenance it provided and the promise it afforded. Their land would nourish them if they lived according to certain principles and practiced the ceremonies She taught them.
As the beautiful woman prepared to leave the villagers, She promised to return to them if they were again in need of Her message. Then She fell and rolled upon the earth. With each tumble She reflected a color symbolic of the directions of the universe. First She was black, then yellow, and then red. When She ran from them, Her people saw Her as a White Buffalo Calf. After Her visit, peace and prosperity prevailed.
Some Native Americans believe Miracle was the reincarnation of the Holy Woman who appeared to their people long ago. Having awaited Her return with the same passion Christians sustain for Christ’s second coming, many indigenous people believed Her arrival foretold a new age of planetary harmony. Some believers interpreted Miracle’s birth as a simple reassurance that the Great Spirit had not forsaken them. To those who may have abandoned their traditional faith practices, Her presence designated a time to recommit to ethnic beliefs. There are others who believed Her appearance held hope for reconciliation between the races. Her return meant white men would begin to accept the truths contained in traditional Native American values.
I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Her legend; I’ve retold it as I learned it. I make no claims to understanding Her sacred mystique, I can only say that the time I spent with Her brought me new ways of comprehending bits of the great mystery and left me with a sense of trust (faith if you will) in things unseen. She brought me hope.
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