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For Hunkpapa Women, Winter Is The Season Of Dreaming

Everyone dreams. Lois Red Elk writes about how a special society carries forth visions to which an entire community belongs

"Hungry Fox Equinox," a painting by R. Tom Gilleon. "During winter," Gilleon says, "many plains tribes referred to the season as the time of the hungry moon." Painting used with the artist's permission. To see more of Gilleon's work, go to tomgilleon.com
"Hungry Fox Equinox," a painting by R. Tom Gilleon. "During winter," Gilleon says, "many plains tribes referred to the season as the time of the hungry moon." Painting used with the artist's permission. To see more of Gilleon's work, go to tomgilleon.com
Words from Lois Red Elk are always a delight to receive.


"We have been freezing over in this part of the state," she writes. "How are you wintering?" 

Amid the cold season, Red Elk has been stoking the fire with warm thoughts of important women in her life. The two poems, below, are about Red Elk's Hunkpapa grandmothers who helped raise her.

"My father's mother was such a kind and gentle woman and left a universe of knowledge with me. She and my paternal grandmother were half sisters.  They belonged to a Hunkpapa Dream Society and both were dream interpreters," Lois shares.  "All the knowledge they had about dreams was passed on to me
and all my siblings and cousins."

Modern science confirms what the Hunkpapa knew innately—that sleep and the visions which come with it—are important windows into what's happening in our conscious existence. "During these months of winter, when the earth sleeps, we women in the society are encouraged to dream deeply and share our dreams with each other," Lois explains. "This sharing keeps us close culturally, spiritually and is like an institute where knowledge is gained and satisfied."  Lois says the poems reflect the dream culture and how dreams can help us today in our daily lives. Mountain Journal is proud to announce that Red Elk is debuting "House of Portals" here.  Consider it her gift to you and carry the words with you into your own dreams tonight. —Mountain Journal
Lois Red Elk's grandmother on her father's side, Brings Her Sorrel Horse (1884-1938), was a member of the Dream Society.  She had an individual belief against having photos taken that showed an exact image of herself.  Thus, this photo is one of Lois' prized reminders and for the poet the best way of honoring her memory is in words. Photo courtesy Lois Red Elk
Lois Red Elk's grandmother on her father's side, Brings Her Sorrel Horse (1884-1938), was a member of the Dream Society. She had an individual belief against having photos taken that showed an exact image of herself. Thus, this photo is one of Lois' prized reminders and for the poet the best way of honoring her memory is in words. Photo courtesy Lois Red Elk

The Dream Interpreter

By Lois Red Elk

Elderly in shawls, the hesitant young, strong men
in dirty work clothes, mother’s with troubled youth, 
fathers with sons, neighbors - all entered her door 

with offerings of meat, money, warm bread, tobacco, 
sweet grass, cedar, blankets and sacred pipes.  All 
had the same need, the same trust, the same faith. 

A most unique practice existed on this quiet lone land
surrounded by cottonwoods and believers.  Hers was 
a world of dreams so sacred everyone knew why 

she was so humble and kind.  She knew knowledge 
could be in footsteps, in how one consumes water, in 
the way an animal was held, or in the care of hands.  

Sharing the most private visions, the most secret 
revelations, and the most hidden fears, they came and 
confided.  Was silence a sign of joy, is joy a sign of 

betrayal?  Can dismay be a sign of pain, is pain 
expressed in loud laughter?  Premonitions, déjà vu,
the sixth sense, a foreboding, nothing was unknown to

her enlightenment.  Her education was communication 
with angels, spirits, ghosts and the lost.  Can dominant 
colors in the sky shape the life of a child?  Can an 

animal capture the walk, talk and spirit of a man? 
Would Freud and Aristotle comprehend if the earth 
spoke with them?  How could a people be so close to 

the motion of the universe that they could make time 
stand still and see into the future?  How and when does 
a person leave their body and travel the spiritual plane 

of this reality?  She was called a dream interpreter.  
She was from the Hunkpapa band of Lakota.  She spoke
the Lakota and Dakota dialects.  What she was not was

primitive.  She had a world of understanding unlike 
any I have ever known.  I loved her dearly, and she 
interpreted my childhood dreams for my living.
©Lois Red Elk

"Dream Interpreter" is from Red Elk's acclaimed book, Why I Return to Makoce, 2015, Many Voices Press
A bald eagle: "eagles carry our prayers to the great spirit," Red Elk says. "In our Dream Society, the eagle often relays messages to other dreamers." Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service
A bald eagle: "eagles carry our prayers to the great spirit," Red Elk says. "In our Dream Society, the eagle often relays messages to other dreamers." Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

House of Portals
(For Grandmother High Back)

By Lois Red Elk

The house of portals takes my story from once upon a time
to this present room where a resurrected eagle and hawk have
winged their way to my personal space.  Their essence perches
in the living room context and listens for something moving,
as dreams take a quantum leap into my sunrise.
 
My home, on the ‘rez’ in northeastern Montana, has been the
portal entrance for this present journey through space.  Some
call my stories myth, well myth works for me and continues to
be the encyclopedia for my life. I entered this zone from stars
to this star, through a unique atmosphere, from a sacred zygote
produced by Back Tracks His Horses and Good Voice Woman.
In this HUD home are stories, carried on ash poles, that chronical
my path. One pole supports the head of a sacrificed Eagle along
with all the sacred feathers. The pole is secured to the wall by
nails and screws.  The eagle head is not dead. The eagle spirit
remains according to heart, and the eyes of the eagle search the
room, the air and has vision through the walls and into the
atmosphere surrounding my home.  It is always the movement
of other spirits that trigger the eyes to wake from a dream space
that exists in our parallel world.

This yard, this house, this open heart accepts all animal prayers
and welcomes the carved cottonwood bowl with cleansing sage
smoke to my hair.  It is then I know we are all one for this early
morning nourishment of earth presence where no famine lingers
only the domain of pure harmonious spirits.
 
Prayer exists in this home, prayer that includes the energy of all
the spirits who live here. I welcome and encourage all these
entities by preparing a container of sage that I pick every year
out in the country.  Sage is for cleansing bad thoughts from the
area and all things that are negative.  It is important for story to
abide according to ritual and my ritual has been practiced for eons.
This ritual not only acknowledges that there is negative, but there
is also positive energy that needs to be lauded forever.  I know
this as ancestor’s prayers instructed me so that all will balance for
this day.  These aromas fed my spiritual needs so that I am filled
with eternal love and humility. This practice keeps me alive, I will
never know void.  I will only know energy that is fed the same way.
 
I walk in moccasins made of sacrificed deer hide, not for running
or escaping but walking purposefully down the hallway that daily
transforms from a rug to a path of fresh buffalo grass where I
recognize an echo off living air next to grandma’s vibrating
neutrinos. They have assembled to greet me at my bedroom door.

To walk this earth in a sacred manner I must connect the skin of
my feet or the skin of the deer with the surface of the earth.  The
deer sacrificed its life for my nourishment and for my protection. 
The deer know this. Through the connection between myself and
Mother Earth, my life becomes renewed by the everlasting potency
radiating from Mother to me.  She was and will always be my
umbilical cord, keeping me close to her heart, feeding me with
breast food, water, herbs, breath and fire.  With this bond, I have
no need to flee, fear or hide.  All fear is removed all I need do
is walk the good red road laid out for me in the traditional stories. 
This connection, this road, this path can then transcend this space/
reality to the parallel world and back to me.  That which exists
there comes alive with its own vitality, own vision and opens my
eyes to all sacred places.  The vibrating coming from this space
arrives in my body and allows me to make my way to the place
where I can enter another world, the place where my grandmother
has planned to meet me in eternity.

We unite as our energy embraces a common cloak, a common
mind of belief and love, and instantly I am standing next to her
at the wooden table in the log house grandpa built, where she
sews quilt pieces made into blankets that yawn prayers over all
lives she protects.  My life, too, shielded in the stitches and blood.
 
In my upbringing I learned very carefully the meaning of love
from my grandparents and my second set of parents, my aunts
and uncles.  The meaning of tiwahe, or family, means all the
energy, spirit and love that exists in our household is extended
to the children, elders and close family members. It is what
keeps us together, cooperating and surviving. This love and
spirit continues after death.  For us D/Lakota, the human body
ends, but the spirit and potency that was given to us by the
Great Spirit continues.  In our prayers, dreams and ceremonies
we can reconnect with those spirits. My grandmothers and
aunts made me several quilts when I was young and I remember
all the love and careful planning that went into those quilts. When
I cover myself at night, I am warmed, comforted, and connected. 
This is one place where I am united.

We speak this way, mind to mind, and have done so all my life
as planned from the other world.  Now it is the moment, time to
burn cedar for her precious words and burn sweet grass for her
grace as I accept this oath, this unbreakable love between all space
and all that moves.  We bring presence where our portals open.
 
©Lois Red Elk

"House of Portals" is new and being shared with Mountain Journal readers.
We say this to Lois: Pidamaya—thank you.
Lois Red Elk-Reed
About Lois Red Elk-Reed

Lois Red Elk-Reed is a poet who calls the high plains home. She is Mountain Journal's poet in residence.
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