Monday, August 22, 2005

Sacred Circles.

You know how a pebble tossed into a quiet pool will send out circles across the surface of the water?

Writing sometimes feels like tossing a pebble... even if we can't always see the circles that it sends out ... or the people whose lives are touched by those circles.

It was this summer while exploring the University of British Columbia's Anthropology Museum in Vancouver, with its extensive collection of original wood carvings, totem poles, and weavings of First Nation artists, that I began to understand those circles in a new way.

Many of the works of art in the museum reflect the Pacific Northwest's quiet beauty, as well as the deep respect and spiritual relationship that the artists hold for the land and the animals with whom they share the land.

Indeed, there is a spirit of sharing that permeates the First Nation culture.

Of a land giving to its people... and a people giving to its land... in a kind of sacred circle.

At the museum, I listened to William White, a Tsimshian artist, describe the art of Chilkat weaving in a videotape entitled, Gwishalaayt: The Spirit Wraps Around You.

White spoke of the process of weaving the blankets that his tribesmen used in sacred ceremonies as another kind of circle.

The vision for the blanket's pattern, the idea of the work itself, originates in his mind, he said.

Then he sees the work take shape as his hands and fingers work the threads into the patterns that his mind sees.

Soon the feeling in his fingers travels to his heart... and from his heart it returns to his hands... and his hands work the loom. And he feels as if he has become the loom.

And when he sees what his hands are doing, the image returns to his mind.

And the circle is complete... a process that he refers to as wrapping himself in a sacred blanket...linking himself with his ancestors and the future members of his tribe who will use his weaving as they dance in their ritual ceremony.

His words made a deep impression on me as I stood watching his hands weaving the colorful threads together.

And his insights into his process as a weaver revealed how artists from different paths--writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, all of us--might share the same process of making circles, even though we may use different tools and media.

Now when I write--even though I'm thousands of miles from the Pacific Northwest's still waters and mist-shrouded islands--I hear William White's voice, and I feel as if I'm weaving a sacred blanket out of words for future readers to wrap themselves in.

Each time I set down a word, it's like tossing another pebble into the water, casting out another ripple, not knowing who the ripples may touch.

Each circle may be invisible, but that doesn't matter. The circles are there, spreading outward, wrapping each of us in a sacred blanket.

(For more information about Gwishalaayt: The Spirit Wraps Around You, see Barb Cranmer, Nimpkish Wind Productions, at or the website for the First Nations at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Wordswimmer,

You've touched on the sacred nature that writing holds in my heart. It is an attempt to hold dear or to cherish all that passes as quickly as a blade of grass and to pass it on to another. To wrap another in the sacredness of this world -- or what we perceive of it -- that's a lovely way of putting it.

Many thanks,