Medicine Walks ~ Journeys from the Center of the Earth

Colby Map
At the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers there is an island that has been a sacred site to the Mdewakanton Dakotas for many generations; it has been a gathering place for their important meetings and rituals.
Today it is called Pike Island, after Lt. Zebulon Pike who made a treaty with the Dakota on the island in 1805.  The Dakota called it Wita Tanka, or “Big Island”, and they called the confluence of these rivers “Bdote”, meaning “the meeting of waters”.


It was here, at Bdote, they believed that life originally began and that their people emerged from the earth.  With this is mind, it is difficult to not take notice of the distinctive phallic shape of the island and of the yonic form of the surrounding terrain that enfolds the island….



Moreover, in the Dakota’s world view, Bdote lay directly over the center of the Earth and immediately below the center of the Heavens.  Thus, it was their axis mundi…


Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Nordic myth

Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Nordic myth


Another such Center of the Earth was experienced by the Dakota visionary, Black Elk.  Here are some excerpts from his extraordinary vision, as recounted in the book, Black Elk Speaks:

“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy….Then when he had been still a little while to hear the birds sing, he spoke again: “Behold the earth!” So I looked down and saw it lying yonder like a hoop of peoples. and in the center bloomed the holy stick that was a tree, and where it stood there crossed two roads, a red one and a black….And now the fourth Grandfather spoke, he of the place where you are always facing (the south), whence comes the power to grow. “Younger brother,” he said, “with the powers of the four quarters you shall walk, a relative….. four ascents you shall walk the earth with Power.”

Of this, Joseph Campbell says in The Power of Myth:

“That is the real mythological realization. It distinguishes between the local cult image, Harney Peak, and its connotation as the center of the world.  The center of the world is the axis mundi, the central point the pole around which all revolves.  The central point of the world is the point where stillness and movement are together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity.  Realizing how this moment of your life is actually a moment  of eternity, and the experiencing the eternal aspect of what you’re doing in the  experiences – this the mythological experience.”

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell writes about The World Navel:

“The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world….

The torrent pours from an invisible source, the point of entry being the center of the symbolic circle of the universe… around which the world may be said to revolve. Beneath this spot is the earth-supporting head of the cosmic serpent, the dragon, symbolical of the waters of the abyss, which are the divine life-creative energy and substance of the demiurge, the world-generative aspect of immortal being.  The tree of life, i.e., the universe itself, grows from this point.  It is rooted in the supporting darkness; the golden sun bird perches on its peak; a spring, the inexhaustible well, bubbles at its foot. Or the figure may be of a cosmic mountain, with the city of the gods, like a lotus of light, upon its summit….Thus the World Navel is the symbol of the continuous creation: the mystery of the maintenance of the world through that continuous miracle of the vivification which wells within all things.”


As my Sunrise Sadhana is about to come to a climax on the Summer Solstice, I have decided to revive an old practice of mine, that of making Medicine Walks into each of the sacred directions.  I will embark upon my first Medicine Walk on the Solstice, the final day of my sadhana, which feels like a wonderful point of departure and the perfect means for establishing a continuity, to carry forward all that I’ve experienced in this daily ritual practice.

But if I am to make these journeys into the directions, I will need a central reference point from which to determine the direction I am heading.    I suppose I could use the home where I live to orient these walks, but, like many others, I feel that the spirit of this land continues to speak to us just as it spoke to its native inhabitants, and so I will honor their tradition by using Bdote, which lies directly above the center of the Earth, and immediately below the center of the Heavens, as the center of my sacred hoop.  Nothing could be more fitting, nor auspicious.

A brief description of Medicine Walk:

“A medicine walk is like a short vision quest, [or walkabout] during which you pay attention to the omens in nature in order to find your medicine, which in the Native American sense is anything that is healing and positive to body and mind. During a medicine walk, you find a place where you can spend at least a half a day alone, walking, sitting and meditating in nature with as few distractions from civilization as possible. You focus on an important personal issue and seek wisdom and guidance in nature by looking for symbolic meaning from the things you observe.”

To this I would only add that I will not be going to random locales for these intentional walks, but will make pilgrimages to wilderness or natural destinations situated in the sacred directions, to learn what specific lessons and Medicine each of these directions holds for me and my individual growth.

Since the Summer Solstice is about the power of the South, I will be making my first journey to the South, to immerse myself into this energy and to honor this direction.

Apotheosis ~ Drinking from the Holy Grail


Apotheosis: from Late Latin apotheosis “deification,” from Greek apotheosis, from apotheoun “deify, make (someone) a god,” from apo- special use of this prefix, meaning, here, “change” + theos “god” (see theo-).

In his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell writes that the Hero must pass through a stage of Apotheosis. According to Campbell, apotheosis is the expansion of consciousness that the hero experiences after defeating his foe.

To continue using the Grail as a metaphor for the Soul, as it was  given to me in the dream that I recounted in my post, “The Quest for the Holy Grail”, to drink from the Grail would be to heal the divide between one’s ego and one’s Soul. To be languishing in the wasteland is to be separated from one’s divinity; to drink from the Grail is to experience the divinity of one’s Soul.  To be healed would be to put aside the inauthentic life one was living and to embark upon the true purpose of one’s Soul.

How does this divide between the ego and the soul arise?  Presumably it could arise from a variety of causes, but perhaps the spilt is engendered by the very foe that must be defeated. In my case, which is likely not that unusual, it arose from the treatment I received from my father.  The inherent abilities I possessed, my interests, my values, and areas in which I lacked ability, these were all constantly disparaged.  This degrading treatment caused an internal estrangement of me from my own higher self.  I disowned and discounted what was devalued by those around me. Over the years I have sought healing for this in many forms, with varying success.

Recently, another person has entered one sphere of my life whose attitude toward life and whose treatment of me is remarkably similar to that of my father’s. Though it is painful to experience being treated in such a demeaning fashion again, this time around it also easier to not take it personally as one unavoidably does as a child.  And it is also easy to see the pain that this man carries that causes him to approach life as he does.  Rather than causing me to become angry, he elicits sympathy.  Rather than causing me to divorce my own self, he gives me an opportunity to dive in more deeply to maintain my center.

Campbell also writes that an integral part of the apotheosis process is to achieve atonement with the father.

So it is clear that this troubled person who has entered my life is a purposeful part of my present quest to connect more fully to my Soul and to live out my Soul’s purpose.  Through my encounter with him I can heal the old wounds from my father, reconcile the estrangement from my Soul, and thus experience apotheosis. May it be that I drink deeply from the Holy Grail.


A Vision of the Holy Grail





Our Knight, who had lived as though entombed in an eternal gloom…




…long had he wandered in the winter of his wasteland…




…trudging through the desolation, his erring steps inexorably betraying him more and more, he was at last brought to his knees by overwhelming grief.  As the winds of anguish howled through his chest, they blew upon the embers of his withering soul, kindling them within their blanket of ash.




In the dark before dawn, his wakened soul urged him from his slumbers, to venture into the chill darkness.  Clad against the cold, his guided footsteps led him to the hallowed lake, and there the rising sun revealed that still, after his long neglect, there was yet a path out of his frozen waste.

Sunrise over frozen Lake Harriet


Henceforth the knight resolved to rise each day to greet the sun and secure what succor might be found in the promise of each new dawn, and to demonstrate to what gods there may be his commitment to his re-found path.

A faltering spring struggled against the grip of the relentless winter, as though the claws of cold might once more ensnare the world.  But the sun prevailed and the knight, rewarded for his faithfulness to his pledge,  was  charged with a quest –  to slay the shadows that lurked within his soul.

Thus the erring knight became the Knight-Errant.  Upon his quest he wandered the environs around the hallowed lake, undergoing adventures fantastic and extraordinary …until one day, sufficiently purged, the scales fell from his eyes and he saw in the rising sun  a vision of the Holy Grail…




And recalled his sullen poetry from his days of desolation..

“The sun shines upon the Moon,
The Moon shines upon the Water,
The Water shines upon Me.

A reflection of a reflection,
of a reflection of a reflection,
of That which shines within the Sun.

But I see only the reflection in the stream,
not the Moon that shines upon the Water
nor the Sun, that shines upon the Moon.
nor That which shines within the Sun.

A lost soul, a mere reflection,
bereft of my fount,
untethered from my Source.

So many layers of beauty to ponder,
Such sublime distances to travel,
to reach the Source of all that is.

Yet, in a moment,
in an instant,
we are there.”


Though he had yet to grasp the Grail and drink from its lips, this bear glimpse of its glory ignited the flame within his chest,  and once again he felt the Source that burns within the sun burn within his Soul.  And the light of the sun shone upon the face of the knight.





“And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
― Joseph Campbell


“If you are falling…dive!”
― Joseph Campbell






The Hero’s Journey


Saw this movie, Finding Joe, last night.   Highly recommend it.  So excellent.

Pretty big synchronicity as well, for recently I have been thinking very seriously about reading “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” .

This meshes so well with my own current journey, and my playful – yet autobiographical – series of blog posts: Quest of the Knight Errant.

Actually, I had better read the book so as to find out which chapter of my journey I’m in.   Would be so good to know where I’m at!   : )