Why seven? I’ve been asked this question about the ancient Iroquois precept that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves. I don’t recall ever hearing an explanation from my friends of the Six Nations, or seeing one amongst the earliest records of the traditions of the Confederacy.
But when I picture in my mind the Tree of Peace, the Great White Pine that stands at the center of all in the imagination of the Onkwehonwe (“the People”), the deep meaning of the number seven comes to clarity in my mind and my heart.
The roots of the great tree spread out in the four cardinal directions, inviting all peoples to find peace and shelter. They extend to east and west north and south. They go down deep, into the mystery of the Great Below. The tree rises skyward, towards the Great Above, and high in its canopy perches the eagle that can see many looks away. In the heartwood of the tree, we can find our center, our True North.
In the retreat I am leading this week, with joined hands, we sang to the seven directions. We turned first to the East, singing
Spirit of the Wind, carry me
Spiritt of the Wind carry me home
Spirit of the Wind, carry me home to my soul
Turning to the South, we sang
Spirit of the Fire, carry me
Turning to the West, we sang
Spirit of the Sea, carry me
Turning to the North, we sang
Spirit of the Earth, carry me
Then we faced the Great Below and sang
Spirit if the Deep, carry me
We turned our faces to the Great Above and sang with the sun in our eyes
Spirit of the Sky, carry me
Then we faced each other. The light of our heart intentions streamed towards the center of our circle. We were conscious of becoming a sphere of energy, a little world within the world. We sang
Spirit of the heart, carry me
Spirit of the heart, carry me home
Spirit of the heart, carry me home to my soul
These, for me, are the seven directions. The words of the song are not Iroquois. The first verse is borrowed from a grand old source, Anonymous. The other verses are my own. As another Native people of the Americas, the Inuit, instruct, we must come up with “fresh words” to entertain the spirits. But I think the spirit of our song is in harmony with the ancient ones of the Northeast. Certainly we sensed their benign presence. I will honor them again today with a pinch of tobacco, and by giving thanks for the gifts of life, which is the way of prayer of the First Peoples. And I will remember those who are coming, seven generations beyond me, and those, seven generations back, on whose shoulders I stand.