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Poems About Mato And The Power Of Bear Medicine

MoJo Poet In Residence Lois Red Elk Shares Two Works About How A Great Nation And A Beloved Elder Dream Of Bruins

Petroglyphs, circa 8,000 Before Present to 700 BP, along the Colorado River near Moab in eastern Utah. Image courtesy of  Wikipedia Commons
Petroglyphs, circa 8,000 Before Present to 700 BP, along the Colorado River near Moab in eastern Utah. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
In Dakota/Lakota culture, we believe everything in the universe has spirit, humans, plants, animals, earth, wind, fire, the stars, and space.

In our culture we must acknowledge and revere this spirit.  Through spirit we connect with all things at all times, past, present and future. The poem, Riding Out Our Mortality, was a dream I had of living with or as an ancient dragonfly.  In the poem, We Call Them Hu Nunpa, my Nation, family and grandmother had visions and dreams of Mato (Bear).  They connected with the bear spirit. This connection with the spirits of all things has provided for us and sustained us through all eternity.  —Lois Red Elk

Riding Out Our Mortality

I look at the veil like wings of your lift and flight, the stratus of dawn reflecting in your eyes, and I believe that it was in the sediment that we survived the fall of giants, ash of fires, and drowning flood.  We were always children of the western Gods, the power of whirlwind, motion the circular of cocoons; the ultimate power of earth’s rotating winds.  Those Gods held us close as the fire-might in earth erupted and radiant blasts from the third direction sent out a ring of fire.  We remember the rumblings of earth’s interior lives, the same fires of the sun.  We witnessed the birthing of distance spires as they grew toward the stars.  It was all in example to assure our longevity, our ability of flight and lithe.  We never forgot our visit to the warm swamps and hushed waters during our early beginnings, the moist soil and damp caverns of our birth.  It was we who were thankful for this alien travel to unite with the globe of mist, the timing of heat and love of caring grasses.  You were much larger then, wings the length of my body, all knowing eyes that reeled my skull, your six gently hands that busied our food and studied the foliage with song.  We replied in our own tongues, prayers for the event, for the growth of place as our common mother lifted her bosom to embrace the blue mist and steam that leaned into our growth and flight.  Our years were millions, now we count summers for our new lives.  And we are still here, riding out our mortality.

©Lois Red Elk

*They say in ancient times when dragonfly lived with the giants, it had a wing span over two feet wide.
Lost Horse Press
Sandpoint, Idaho

We call them Hu Nunpa
                                                                                                Hu Nunpa
In the continuum of creation, Mato spirit was a listener, remained calm,
lent his quiet observation to the gods below and was highly respected. 
Mato was given the right to carry the spirit of wisdom and medicine, he
was adorned with warm garments and long hair, a special rattle was made
for him.  When it came time for him to sing his appreciation, he stood up,
on two legs (Hu Nunpa), picked up the rattle, walked in a circle to observe
those who gathered and to show thankfulness to all who were witnesses. 
He sang an honor song for all spirit and energy.  After the song he was told
that he would be the protector of all Medicine Men and all Holy men. To
this day he stands on two-legs to scan the spirit scape to see who will
remember and welcome his song and his eternal knowledge.

                                                                                               Mato Ihanbla
If you dream of bear (Mato Ihanbla), you are being offered the knowledge
of healing medicines. If you accept the dream, you accept the responsibility
of welcoming all medicinal spirits.  Grandmother was always happy to see
the returning geese, it marked a time in her schedule for harvesting plants.
Entering the woods from day to day, she could smell the growth in the earth,
the bark, leaves and certain flowers.  She said she was preparing herself to
speak the plant language and witness their spirit.  On the prairies she was
careful to stand upwind from some plants, careful to stand with her back to
the sun for vision and careful to watch where the leaves pointed. She made
offerings, grateful for her connection to earth. She said after learning from
Mato, you share by becoming a bear doctor, a physician or pharmacist.

                                                                                                      Eshta G’i
You have to look into their eyes, not a fearful glance or a sudden observation
but a study, face to face, like greeting an old fellow spirit.  I remember the
eyes of my father, shadowed for protection, a solid brown filling the entire
orb like the brown eyes (Eshta G’i) of his relative the bear.  It came from an
ancient attraction to the power of standing on two-legs, a longing honed by
looking deep, as in looking for the soul.  When one was introduced to Father,
his look was a serious acknowledging of your being.  He was reading your
interior intention and into your exterior practice, letting the eyes introduce
his being.  He feared no spirit, extending the same challenge to you to meet
him at that place, the place where he looked at Mato.

                                                                                                  Mato Pejuta
In early Spring Grandma would begin making offerings for the bear and the
plants. She said it was during the days after hibernation that the plant nation
would release their scent into the defrosting soil, an aroma so full that waves
of awakening air vibrated above the stillness of melting snow. Grandma knew
this as she studied the hungry bears, looking for healing nourishment after long
months with Mother Earth.  She said the two nations worked together to sustain
life, the animals and the plants.  Bears can smell their medicine miles off,
she said and knew where to dig for them thus sharing knowledge of the best
roots or bear medicine (Mato Pejuta).  Grandma would send her nephews
to the mountains with handmade deerskin pouches filled with pemmican and
wrapped in sage and sweet grass. These gifts were for those who harvested
the bear medicine. She said this was proper, to appease the bear and the plants, 
as only they could begin the harvest of all sacred medicines.

©Lois Red Elk

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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