According to ijellh.com, “Purple is a symbol of life, creativity and individual thinking.” In the movie of the same name, protagonist Celie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) paints her room purple and red. “Purple symbolizes royalty and piety. It is a combination of the wisdom of blue and the love of red.”
Aware of the colour’s deep meaning, it is then enlightening to note that both dawn and dusk are often tinged purple. And in the northern hemisphere, on June 21st, those lavender bookends to the day are stretched farther from one another than on any other day of the year.
This year, on this day, which also happens to be my husband B’s birthday, we rose at 3:30 am to the satisfying sound and smell of the coffee pot gurgling with our morning brew. We loaded up a couple of chairs and a dozen blueberry/sweet potato muffins I’d made the day before and drove to the country to be led in an Indigenous sunrise ceremony by an Elder of the Oneida nation.
We sat fireside and listened as he shared what is known in Indigenous culture as the Thanksgiving Address. In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s acclaimed book Braiding Sweetgrass, she refers to this ancient tradition as the “Words That Come Before All Else”. And what better way could there possibly be to begin the gift of a new day than with gratitude for all that surrounds us?
Teacher recited the words first in his native Oneida tongue, offering tobacco to the fire from time to time. I think of tobacco in a negative way, due to its adverse health impacts, so it was hard to understand his reverence for it.
Teacher explained, “There stood a man smoking. Oh, he must be connecting with spirit. He tossed aside the butt and lit up another. Oh, he must really have a lot to say to spirit!”
Just as the strawberry is considered the leader of the berries because it ripens first, tobacco is considered the leader of the medicines because it comes first. It is sacred, considered a gift from the Creator and thought to promote physical, spiritual, emotional and community well-being, but in moderation of course. Indigenous peoples have harvested it for centuries, originally often using it for trade due to its esteemed value.
It’s helpful to understand that the entire Indigenous culture is based in reciprocity. And abundance. There is enough. You are enough.
Teacher then translated the Thanksgiving Address into English. Despite the number of tribes throughout North America, and the various languages, on the story of Creation and such rituals as this? The structure and beliefs are pretty much identical. I did not jot down what Teacher said, but it is so similar to what is in Kimmerer’s book:
“Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.”
“Now our minds are one.” Don’t you love that? We are together on this journey, not opposed to one another. And this: “the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things”! It makes you wonder that if we’d started our days this way throughout life? Perhaps climate change wouldn’t be a thing?
Teacher continued, thanking all the things. Mother Earth. The waters. Fish. Plant life. The berries and their leader. The Medicine Herbs. Trees. Animal life. Birds. The Four Winds. Our grandfathers the Thunder Beings. Eldest brother the Sun. Grandmother Moon. The Stars. The Creator, the Great Spirit.
He told a story of how when he was a teenager his father took him out, early, to see the colour purple. Teacher stood there shivering. Too smart to wear a coat. Griping in his mind at the sound of birds, chirping. Why are they so loud? Can’t they stop? I’d rather be in bed.
“Did you see it son?”
“The colour purple. The sunrise.”
“No. Those birds.”
“Ah. The birds,” his father said. “Did you notice they sang three different songs?”
The next morning, Teacher took himself out. Paid attention. Heard three distinct bird songs. Saw purple.
“Did you notice,” Teacher said to us, after the Thanksgiving Address, “the birds were quiet, the dogs were quiet, while I was speaking? They were listening too.”
We often forget, at our peril, our connection to the natural world. We are one.
I found it comforting when Teacher spoke of the “duty” of all life forms. Here for a reason. A purpose. The frog? To eat the bugs.
Before we departed, we spoke about trees and what they represent. Teacher said, “Inside, the core. Then? The rings, growing – emotion. Then, the mental. The outside? The physical. We get it backwards, think the physical matters most.”