Mr. Sam Proctor, a respected Muscogee elder, culture bearer and descendant of the great Creek leader Opethleyahola, watches the proceedings. This Green Corn Dance is hosted by his family. His heart is warmed by the presence of the many young people participating in even the most demanding ritual aspects.
These Muscogee are determined to maintain their precious traditional ways as they raise children within the mainstream culture. Parents must help navigate the influence of media, cell phones and video games. Every year brings more challenge, because the last of the native speakers are dying, and those who remain feel the time running out.
"The last of the really olds ones, those in their 90s and even 100s, are gone," says Mr. Proctor. The native Muscogee language which describes relationships and values is absolutely vital to maintaining a way of life that promotes balance and harmony with family and strangers alike.
"We chastise the parents who are too harsh in disciplining the children here on the ceremonial grounds," one of the grandmothers confides. "We want the children to have positive thoughts about the time they spend here."
The Green Corn Fast is a time of celebration and also a time of purification and renewal, a time for righting the wrongs and settling the grievances of the past year, of moving forward with a clean slate for all people of the community.
During the annual ceremony, the central sacred fire is extinguished, its ashes added to a mound which grows over the years, marking the continuity of the relationship between the people and the land. The women ceremonially dance to clear the chaff of the previous year, and a new fire is lit. Its embers, and messages of practicing right and moral living, are shared with all the surrounding hearths.
This evening's celebration builds as one at a time, each woman adds her stomping gait to the dance. The women wear rattles on their legs, precious sacred items. Most are made of carefully polished turtle shells attached to leather sheaths, others shine in an array of gleaming tin cans.
The sound crescendos. What follows is a magical sound, an echoed chorus of that Song which births the World anew time and time again. The cicadas join in. The bullfrogs add their voices. The glow of the flames lights the faces of the innermost dancers, their gratitude for the gifts of fire and community and proud tradition clearly expressed.
Other families and guests join in, find their place in the spiral. They, too, catch the rhythm of the Stomp Dance. And then--a sudden shift. It's time for walking, and silence. Then a new call rises, a new response, a new building of the sound of feet that says, "We are here. Notice us."
When the dancing ends with sunrise, the footsteps on the packed sandy soil will be left untouched, a testament to the sacrifice, the fasting, the bravery, the generous service which the people have demonstrated to their ancestors and to spirit. The dancers leave with the satisfaction of having offered their gift, a sacrifice that may bring blessings to their community and to these lands through the coming year.
The importance of ceremony for the well-being of community cannot be underestimated, even in these modern times.
There is a relationship between people and the places where they live, between people and the foods they eat and waters they drink. For many people, this relationship is fuzzy, like a long-buried, uncertain memory. But in these times of rapid change, many people feel a deep longing to reconnect with the living earth.
One place where people can begin this reconnection is at the Ancient Wisdom Rising retreat this November 9-11 at the Lodge at Simpsonwood Conference Center in Norcross. Mr. Proctor will be one of the elders presenting his stories and traditional wisdom at the gathering, which is taking place on land that was historically under Muscogee protection before their forced removal to Oklahoma.
"The Ancestors are still here," Mr. Proctor said on a recent visit to the Lodge, which is surrounded by 227 acres of woodlands along the Chattahoochee River. Mr. Proctor will welcome Ancient Wisdom Rising attendees to his ancestral homeland by hosting a Muscogee Social Fire and Dance on Thursday evening, November 8th. For more information and to reserve your spot, visit ancientwisdomrising.com.
Ancient Wisdom Rising is presented by Sacred Fire Foundation, whose mission is to restore balance by igniting a heart-centered way to relate to each other, our communities and the sacred world around us.