This past weekend was my 2nd time to be a part of the 3-day Night Turtle Dance ceremony in the Olympic peninsula and I am moved to share this potent and magical experience with you! Night Turtle Dance is a ceremony dedicated to honoring and showering our Love and Gratitude to Mother Earth. We do this through 7 rounds of song and dance, stepping in sacred geometric patterns…all through the night under a full moon on the back of a giant turtle altar we build together with our intergenerational community 2 days before the night-long ceremony.
On the night of the full moon, we become the living breathing Turtle altar – not something separate from us – we are a part of it — dancing, breathing, drumming, singing from Moon-rise to Moon-set, all through the night, and becoming the pulse of Love, Gratitude, Joyous celebration and devotion to our greatest Teacher, Mother Earth. Earth is the Mother of all we have, of who we are, of all Life, birthing the great Beauty and Mystery of our beloved Planet, her waters, fires, winds and mountains and all our Relations.
This is a most sacred, joyous ceremony…one birthed and visioned in through a woman, my dear friend, teacher and elder, Sarah MacLean Bicknell. It is drummed in by women, and organized, danced and supported by both men and women, girls and boys, grandmothers and grandfathers. This ceremony in its purity and simplicity of giving Love and gratitude to Mother Earth, honors the sacred Feminine, which naturally honors and evokes the sacred Feminine and Masculine in all expressions of the universe, between women and men, the dynamic harmony of Yin and Yang, Heaven and Earth, Water and Fire, Stars and Mountains.
For millennium our Earth people have done ceremonies, and ceremonies that are in accordance to my/our physical and spiritual covenants with the land. These covenants include the essential importance of giving and offering gratitude, appreciation and ceremony in regenerating and nourishing the Creation.
Ritual & Our Physical & Spiritual Covenants
I learned a lot about this this past year during one of the worst droughts in history here in the Pacific NW and in many places on our planet. As I mentioned in another share earlier this spring, last year’s drought evoked depths of grief and desperation I had not yet before known. Each day I looked to the trees, giving thanks for their shade in the oppressively hot and intense sun, yet seeing them start wilt. Seeing them not shine in their normal green glow was heartbreaking. Tall, majestic cedar trees turned dull and their green needles turned brown and brittle. Rivers became narrow and shallow, creeks and alpine streams were dry. Some plants flowered but no fruit came. What was happening? The wilderness which has always been my place of refuge, of filling with immense joy and delight, was breaking my heart in seeing, feeling the struggle of the land, trees, waters, animals, the ecosystem!
In one of my many conversations with my fiancé Nate, he shared with me about this ancient physical and spiritual covenant. He shared with me some wisdom he learned from the Earth when doing a night of prayer and ritual for the lands in Tuscan when he lived there for 4 years. One of the 3 truths he received was about our human role as spiritual and physical caretakers of the land and our covenants of offering appreciation and gratitude and its role in regenerating Creation. Another is all creation CAN be regenerated as we follow these sacred ways known and followed for millennium by our Earth people ancestors.
He then taught me the water honoring song he learned from his lineage of elders at his school (Wilderness Awareness School). Last year we did 4 water ceremonies – 3 in Washington and 1 in California. Each time we gave thanks, prayed, and sang this song, it rained, it poured…and the water and snow returned. I am so grateful, so grateful for this teaching, this remembering of the power and necessity of Love, Gratitude and ceremony!
Night Turtle Dance is a powerfully potent offering of such ceremony. It is a way to plant the seed of a new Dream – a dream of Love, kindness, Joy, respect, reciprocity, and honoring Life and Beauty and the natural harmony and balance of all living things. Grandmother Turtle is the Dreaming Mother. In all things, Sarah shares “first comes the dream. Without her the physical world falters.”
Dreaming the New Dream
We are living in perilous times. What will become of our planet with all changes in climate, in political turmoil? Elders/ancestors have long predicted a time when things have tilted too far. So far that science, technology, thinking alone cannot get us out of the mess. This is where love, gratitude, prayer and ceremony/ritual come in. We Dream the new Dream. We plant the seed. New ceremonies are being born through us. They come from nature, from the Earth. That is exactly how Night Turtle Dance came through.
Sarah Bicknell was on a 4-day vision quest. She prayed, prayed and prayed until she did not know what else to pray for…and then prayed more. One time deep in the darkness of night, she prayed for our earth and exclaimed “How can I help?! I am not a President or ruler of any nation? How can I be of service and make a difference?” Soon after, she started to hear rustling in the brush around her. It got louder and she new something big was coming her way. She froze. Out from the forest, a giant Turtle emerged in front of her. Not knowing if she was dreaming or what was happening, Sarah was awe-stricken. The turtle then turned and lifted its front legs showing her its back shell. Sarah watched intently, almost holding her breath. She then saw what looked like tiny footsteps and glowing white geometric patterns. And then she got it. She understood and the turtle came down and made its way audibly back into the forest.
Sarah was shaking but knew she received a great gift…a vision, a ceremony. The white footsteps were the geometric patterns to be danced on the Grandmother Turtle’s back, a way of us telling Mother Earth we love her, witness her, support her. Sarah shared her vision with her supporting elder and he said in receiving this vision her responsibility was to bring the ceremony to her people. Her responsibility was to do it once, and if the ceremony was to be continued, the people would ask for it again. And that is what has happened.
Dancing on Grandmother Turtle
There are so many things I want to share about this ceremony…and I know I have already written a lot! It is so so so magical!!! The Turtle altar is giant – at least 50 feet wide and 80-100 feet long. It’s laid down with blue cornmeal – as it shines white under the moonlight and cornmeal is the offering of choice of our native Grandmothers’ prayers. The outer part of the turtle’s back is laid in cedar. The turtle’s many altars include the tail, where us dancers enter and exit the turtle’s back. The tail altar is for regeneration, creation, fertility, future generations. The back right flipper is the altar for Earth – abundance; the front right fin is our Water altar, the head for our Ancestors, the left top fin for Wind, the left back fin for Fire. Outside the altar are 4 pillars in the 4 directions, calling in Mt. Olympus in the West, Mt. Baker in the North, Mt. Index in the East and Mt. Tahoma (Rainier) in the South. The mountains send out our prayers in all directions and join together in the center of the Turtle’s back where our giant circular drum and circle of women drummers sing and beat the rhythm of our dance and prayers throughout the night. As dancers we enter all dressed in white with leather moccasins and a rattle, stepping, dancing our prayers, love and gratitude in sacred geometric patterns on the turtle’s back.
The night consists of 7 rounds. Each round has a break and I love sitting by myself in the open field and gazing at the brilliant luminous and silent Moon as she glides across the sky with twinkling stars and silhouetted by loving, listening cedar trees.
It is all magical and this year also included 2 beautiful baby blessings and a beautiful family blessing for me, Nate and his 10 y/o daughter, Katie (and Sarah included blessings for his sweet 2y/o daughter, Tara who is already in Hawaii with her Mom). In the middle of the 6th round, Sarah also did a blessing for me and Nate and our marriage on our living altar. It was so beautiful! I cried so many tears of awe, of beauty, of gratitude!
Thunder Confirmations, Star Reflections & the Ethereal Song of the Swainson’s Thrush
As we finished our last round, all the dancers processed off the turtle’s back. Only the drummers remained – standing in the early morning light. Sarah began her rounds aournd the altar, releasing the directions, spirits, visible and invisible forces joined with us, and Grandmother Turtle while the drummers sang a most hauntingly beautify “Away” blessing song. I cried and cried, tears streaming down my cheeks – so grateful for the opportunity to pray and give thanks in this powerful way. As Sarah finished in the last direction, there was huge clap of thunder, soon followed by more thunder and a bolt of lightening. ….And it is Good!
After our morning feast from the Abundance altar’s fruit and veggies and putting the altar to bed, my dear friend Summer, who has been organizing, supporting, and leading the dances of this ceremony from the beginning, asked a sweet 5 year old about her experience in the night. She said, “I loved seeing the turtle reflected.” When Summer asked more, she exclaimed, “The turtle. It was in the stars. The same turtle on the ground was in the stars!” Wow! Just Wow!!!
Ceremony is a time when the veil is thin and the invisible and visible worlds meet more potently. The day before we danced I saw my first Swainson’s Thrush — a bird with the most ethereal, angelic call, yet is also one of the most elusive, hardest to spot. I believe seeing it was just a foreshadowing of the potency of the Dream being birthed through our ceremony.
Thank you so so so very much for receiving my share of this most beautiful ceremony and experience. This is open to everyone and happens each year on the full moon in July or August. Here’s a beautiful video giving more info on the ceremony, on the symbol of the Turtle and what this dance does…on so many levels!
So much Love and Gratitude to you all! May you walk in beauty, appreciation and Love!