One of the readers of yesterday’s blog essay on “Messages from Hawk” asked a provocative question: “Seems we could learn much from Hawk. What do we have to offer Hawk?”
I am going to respond here rather fully, from my own life trajectory.
Quarter of a century ago, I spent a weekend driving around the upper Hudson valley of New York. I was profoundly dissatisfied with my life. From the outside, that life may have looked like a dream fulfilled. I was a bestselling thriller writer; publishers competed to offer me high six-figure advances, laid on stretch limos and made sure the Dom Perignon waiting for me in the hotel suites they paid for was perfectly chilled. And my life felt hollow. I knew I had to make a break with big cities and the fast track I had been on and get back in touch with the spirits of the land and my own deeper creative spirit.
On that upstate weekend, a few miles from the village of Chatham NY, a Realtor showed me some land with a run-down farmhouse that might be available. The house would need a ton of work, but as I walked the land, half of it still primal woodlands where the deer drifted in great droves, I knew in my gut this was a place I needed to be. I sat under an old white oak behind the house, feeling the rightness of the place but also that I needed a further sign.
A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, dipping lower and lower, screaming urgently at me in a language I felt I ought to be able to understand. I did not speak hawk, but I could not fail to get a message when she proceeded to drop a wing feather between my legs. That visitation by the hawk was the clincher. I purchased the farm, moved to the country, and soon found myself changing worlds, which is what can happen when we radically change the way we inhabit the world.
When we had restored the farmhouse and moved in, I was drifting one night in that in-between state of consciousness the French used to call dorveille, sleep-wake. I found myself gently rising from my dormant body on the bed, in a second body, a dreambody – not an exotic experience for me, as far back as I can remember. I floated out over the night landscape, and found that in my dreambody, I had wings – the wings of a red-tailed hawk, scaled to my size. I had a marvelous time enjoying a highly sensory experience of flight, riding thermals, swooping and soaring, seeing the world at different angles.
I found myself flying north, over Lake George and then Lake Champlain. I noticed the Northway and modern towns were missing from the landscape below me. I felt the tug of someone else’s intention, and followed it, out of curiosity, to a cabin in the woods somewhere near Montreal, where I was received by a beautiful, ancient indigenous woman. She spoke to me for a long time in her own language, her words like lake water lapping, while she stroked a beaded belt that hung from her shoulder, with the design of a she-wolf and human figures. I was fascinated, but did not understand a single word, any more than I had understood the language of the hawk. I knew I had been in the presence of a woman of power, and I hoped that, since this felt urgently important, more would be revealed.
The design of the belt, in my night vision, proved to be the equivalent of the hawk’s feather: a way I could receive and confirm a message even though I lacked a necessary language. My first Iroquois friend – met later through an interesting series of coincidences – was able to show me a wampum belt identical to the one in my vision. It was in the archives of the New York State Museum at that time; since then it has been returned to Onondaga, the traditional capital of the Confederacy of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, or Longhouse People, among whom the Mohawk are Keepers of the Eastern Door. He told me it was believed that the belt was the credentials of an ancient mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk People.
I entered deeply into the study of the traditions of the ancient dream shaman who had called me, when I was flying on hawk’s wings. This opened to me ways of dreaming and healing that were possibly shared by all our ancestors, but which have become atrophied, when not actively suppressed, in modern society. I came to call the ancient shaman Island Woman; this reflects the fact, which I was able to confirm through historical research, that she was captured as a young girl from the Hurons, called by the Mohawk the Island People, to be raised as Mohawk. In order to receive her teachings fully, I had to study the Mohawk and Huron languages, and reclaim terms from early sacred vocabulary.
New dreams eventually called me to leave the land to which the hawk had called me and teach what I had learned about dreaming the soul back home and dreaming for our communities. We sold the farm to a woman who promised to conserve the land. As we were leaving the house, after our final checks, I was inspired to go back inside for no reason I could express. I heard a scuffling in the family room we had built, overlooking the old white oak. I found the noise was coming from the hearth. When I removed the firescreen, I found a young red-tailed hawk – a fledgling – that had somehow managed to fall down the chimney between my last two visits. My last action, on the land I acquired because of the hawk, was to carry the young hawk outside, next to my heart, and release her. She flew straight into the branches of the while oak where the first hawk had delivered her message.
What can we offer Hawk? For me, the answer was: nothing less than a complete change of life. Today, I offer a continued commitment to honor the ancestors, to help others to acquire the gifts of vision and soul healing, and to follow a path for which there is no career track in our culture: the path of a dream teacher. And, of course, the willingness to be alert to any further messages from Hawk.
I describe an indelible recent encounter with Hawk in my new book, Dreaming the Soul Back Home; this guided me in developing the approach to soul healing presented in that book and in my current workshops. The full story of my early encounters with Hawk and the Mohawk shaman named Island Woman is in Dreamways of the Iroquois. The story of Island Woman’s apprenticeship as a dream shaman (thinly disguised as fiction) is in my novel The Interpreter.