Vagneur: Things are not always what they seem | AspenTimes.com

Vagneur: Things are not always what they seem

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

In the book "Legends and Lore of the American Indians," by Terri Hardin, we learn that for many Native American cultures, the study of the night sky was meticulous and incredibly important, as attested by the many stories, legends and myths that come from beliefs of various tribes across North America. If we delve deeply into these sacred creeds, we find that things are not always what they seem, despite what we've been told over the years. Witches, warlocks and pagans (brings to mind Friday night, doesn't it?) have always led us to believe in the four quadrants, as in fire, water, air and earth, but they might have sold themselves short.

Ian Tyson sings of "Four Strong Winds" in his 1960s rock classic, leading us to believe the winds come from the four points of the compass. "Four strong winds that blow lonely, seven seas that run high." But truth be known, and to the consternation of many who believe otherwise, there are seven strong winds. Like most things in life, if we believe something to be true, it generally is.

Before we get into much detail, and without a lot of anthropological or religious wrangling, let me point out that many of the ancient rituals say that the first humans arrived on Earth from the star of the west and were carried here by the wind.

With the arrival of dawn comes the east wind, the sacred name of "east" in the Pawnee language meaning "lost." Perhaps it is thus named because the east wind brings life to the body but does nothing for the spirit, leaving one in search of spiritual fulfillment. Does the Aspen Institute know about this?

The west wind, west sometimes meaning "mysterious" or "wonderful," originates with the unknowable being to whom the Great Spirit gave power to put life into all things, to have direct communication with man and to direct his life. Invested in the west wind are the powers to bring rain to cool and replenish vigor in the earth. From the west, we hear the rumblings of thunder, which exemplifies the knowledge that the west is inhabited by powers that carry out the wishes of the Great Spirit.

The wind of the spirits, my favorite, known also as "a shadowy image of a person, a ghost," takes on the whole of the Milky Way. When people die, so the legend goes, their spirits immediately pass from the Earth to some star in the north. Once there, and for whatever reason, they must then travel to the south star, a journey of almost unimaginable distance. What the white man has called the Milky Way for ages is known to the native people as the "Ghost Trail," for its condensed brightness as the spirits (ghosts) are being carried from the north to the south. The Milky Way is a conjunction of "bright light" and "a long stretch" in the native tongue, obviously meaning that it is a long way from the star in the north to the star in the south.

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Naturally, the south wind would come from the star in the south where the spirits of the dead abide. Mythological knowledge has it that the spirit wind collects and builds in the south, eventually blasting north in an unfathomable gust of unmanageable bluster, mostly in the form of a cyclone or tornado.

The north wind is a conjunction of "wind" and "placed permanently," the latter indicating it is likely connected with the North Star, "the star that does not move," a marker for all mankind, if you will. The North Star was made a lesser power (less than the Great Spirit) and was told to always stand in his position, where he was placed, and to watch Earth. He must remain still, for should he move, all the other stars, without his guidance, would become confused and travel unreliable courses. Just as the North Star gives navigational direction to us mere earthlings, so too does the north wind, its chill and foreboding making it clear from whence it came.

There are two more winds: One sends the game and comes from one of two stars hiding behind the North Star. This means, on the basic level, that when one takes his shot at wild animals, the wind will send the game into the arc of his weapon, thus giving the game to the hunter.

The other wind is the one that drives the game toward the hunter's camp, and it comes from the other star concealed behind the North Star. Thus, to have a successful hunt, there must be two winds — the one that sends and the one that drives the game.

Modern-day hunters earnestly give homage to these last two, but after a grand Halloween celebration, I'm sticking with the spirit world, er, wind.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.