Interview: C. Hall, Shoshone Elder
wolfie: we’re here interviewing c. hall, shoshone elder, and one of the founder of gai, the gay american indian caucus. let’s start with basic background information, c. when and where you were born, how you grew up.
C: I was born in 1951 in Pocatello, Idaho. I was born in a time when something had just been invented called an “incubator,” because I was born a month or so premature. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. It was a little metal box with a heat lamp in it, a high wattage lightbulb.
wolfie: so then, your childhood was spent on the reservation at fort hall?
C: Yes. I lived in a one-room house, log cabin, with my grandmother. And later on with my sister. It was a good life.
wolfie: so we talked a little bit about this in previous conversations, because normally one of the questions with these interviews is, “what is your coming out story?” but you don’t really have one?
C: I don’t have a coming out story.
wolfie: so can you talk about why that is so?
C: It was just like Laine Thom [another Shoshone walker of the old ways], he didn’t have a coming out story either. We’re the people that were raised by traditional people. Because of the values our people have, they observe you when you’re born and what your preferences are and what you like and, traditionally, they encourage that, because everyone is valued. Nobody is thrown away in tribal cultures. Even today, that, for the most part, is still the case. There’s always something, some ability or some skill that people have that can be integrated into the survival of the band or the tribe.
wolfie: that’s a culturally historical way that that happens, so it’s not a like, sudden realization. i would assume that at some point you did have the realization that you were gay, but it wasn’t a, “oh my god, this is this thing i either have to hide, or tell people.”sounds like that wasn’t even a part of the reality there.
C: I don’t even know if that was a realization.It was just the way I was, and I just went along with the flow. I mean, the word “gay,” I didn’t know it.
wolfie: even post-stonewall?
C: Oh, there were other words. Like “homosexual” and things like that. But, it was just a sense of being who you were, and I was encouraged by the old people.The traditional people that were raised in any semblance of tradition, so, there’s no big ‘coming out’ story or anything like that.
wolfie: a lot of the people who will be reading this will relate the word ‘pagan’ to more western style magic. can we talk some about the different nature of the magic you grew up with?
C: Well, it isn’t separate from life. It’s integrated. It’s not like, “Oh I’m gonna do something magical.” Indian people believe that that’s always around you. That power is always around you, those things are always around you and it’s integrated into your life, what you do from day to day. The way you live, the old people have a saying—“at this time.” And for a long time I wondered what we meant by that, “at this time,” and it’s because that’s literally all you have, is at this time—past, present, future, revolving around that moment in a circle, because Indian people believe that all things are in a circle, everything. And the universe, everything, moves in a circle.
wolfie: i remember you said something about there’s a phrase or something about how all of nature is circular, except for rocks.
C: All power lies in a circle. There are no straight lines in nature except for the rock, who has angles and points and has the power to create or destroy, which is related to the thunder and lightning beings. Everything is like that, everything is round in the world, according to Indian philosophy, and what you call magic, which we call ‘bo’ha’,’ and Sioux call ‘skunskun.’
Bo’ha, that’s the power that moves. You know, it’s in everything from the way the galaxies and everything move to the shaking of the leaves and trees in the wind, or how you walk about the earth and talk, that’s all part of it, that’s a manifestation of it. So Indians live with the realization of that power, 24/7.
wolfie: witches are very into setting aside their “sacred space,” and i’vealways had the thing with them of “well, isn’t all space sacred, all the time?”
C: Yeah, all space is sacred all the time, but if you want to do something special, then you can create that space right then and there. Creating a container if you want to call it that. But we liken that to a medicine wheel. You’re in the center of that medicine wheel, you can create that medicine wheel any time at any given moment, just be thinking about it, just by calling in the directions or calling in things or having a smoke and praying with the smoke. It can be a cigarette or burning cedar or sweetgrass or whatever, right then and there it’s created.
wolfie: there’s been a lot of writing in what itend to term the gay revisionist historians about how ‘two spirit’ is the same thing as ‘gay.’
C: No. (loud laughter)
wolfie: can you clarify that and then we can go into more of the history of the term two spirit. you’ve said that there was sort of a diaspora, for lack of a better term, of old ways and two spirit and then the modern day.
C: There’s words in the traditional languages for people who had different roles that they played within the tribal structures, within the bands of people that lived together. I don’t think they would recognize the word ‘two spirit’ or even ‘gay,’ you know. Take for instance in Sioux the word Wankan Tankan. Now what does Wankan Tankanmean to you?
wolfie: the best translation iremember learning was something like “great spirit/all that is” kind of thing?
C: It doesn’t really necessarily mean that. Wankan Tankanwas part of a hierarchy of powers or gods that the Sioux had, spirits that the Sioux had, but it wasn’t necessarily the godhead. Wankan Tankanbecame the godhead I think due to colonialization when the missionaries came amongst the Indians and then they were trying to shove Christianity down their throats, that’s when Wankan Tankan became foremost, so the kids during that period of time, turn of the last century, when they would talk to their older people and use the word Wankan Tankan in that context, the old people would look at them like, “What you talking about?”
With the Shoshones, we’ve always had the concept of Damma apa, ‘our father,’ you know, ‘our great father,’ or whatever, but then that concept wasn’t necessarily prayed to like Christians do that now. Originally it was more of the allies you made in the spirit world that were your helpers, and you talked to them and you asked them for things. If we prayed to them I don’t know, that’s an ambiguous word, but that was the most immediate. So you did that. And you didn’t necessarily talk directly to Damma apa.
It’s important to remember that it wasn’t until the sun dance, and all the things like that were revived, that we were able to openly discuss any of this. Our language and our ceremonies, they were very much persecuted and banned from the 1890s on to about 1935.
The sun dance that my people use nowadays is a revisionist sun dance, it’s something that’s a revival, and that’s when the concept damma apa came about, with the idea that you could pray directly to damma apa, you know, not through your spirit helpers. They were not the most important at that point, it became refocused and it became a dance of healing and renewal at that point. So the whole thing was repackaged into the way it exists today. But you know we kind of got off the subject.
wolfie: let’s talk a little bit about the origin of the term “two spirit.” that was born out of your involvement with founding the gay american indian caucus, yes? can you talk about how that came together?
C: Gay American Indians was founded by Randy Burns and Barbara Cameron originally at Stanford University, because they were both going to school there at the time. A lot of Indian people came to the Bay Area under a program called “Indian Relocation.” It was a plan that the government had to get the Indians off the reservation, train them up for some kind of vocational or tech skills, or go to college or some kind of trade or what have you, and they would provide transitional housing and supplemental income when you were going to these trainings and then hopefully place you in some kind of job when you were done. So there was a tremendous influx of Indian people into the San Francisco Bay Area and also to places like Chicago and Albuquerque. Different places around the country, to see if they could get Indians to transition. The ones that went to San Francisco went for a unique purpose because San Francisco was known at that point as kind of a gay capital. Things weren’t completely on the out and out, but that was the place where particular and peculiar men congregated.
wolfie: (chuckles)and it still is. so, when that group started getting together, was it social, or was it political?
C: It was purely a social group, because there’s people from all over who came to the Bay Area. It was considered a social group originally and then it morphed into a political group. That’s the way it went because, of course, we wanted a place at the table. You know, with the up and coming gay movements and things. It was a tremendously exciting time to live in San Francisco. In the late 70s or so, we started discussing a name because “Gay American Indians” was fine for us, and we were the first group ever in the world.
wolfie: when we talked before, you talked about how the actual coalescing with the word ‘two spirit’ happened around the first march on washington in 1979.
C: Was it that far back?
C: Time is like a river, I don’t know, I can’t remember.
wolfie: we did talk a lot last time about how linear time is sort of a western notion.
C: We were involved in the early gay freedom marches, or pride parades as it’s called now, in San Francisco and it was a very exciting time, but things were all about politics and making statements back then. And it would always end up on hippy hill in golden gate park, that’s where the marches ended. We started talking about “gay American Indians,” which it was ok for our group, but as a national thing, you needed something that was much more encompassing because, number one, gay was mainly connoted with males, and Indians have many traditions about the subject, many ways and viewpoints that have been practiced for thousands and thousands; millennia of years, and so, we thought, how do we incorporate the old traditions with something new and be encompassing and inclusive?
So we tossed around a number of words and descriptions and it all kind of congealed when we got to Washington, DC, that was the first time that Indians came from all over including Canada and different places. We had a meeting of what to call ourselves, And we decided on the term “two spirit,” so, that’s where it was decided on. Coined there, and then later on I think it was in 1990 at the American Anthropological Association convention in Washington, DC, we all gave a number of papers and speeches on the subject, which are collected in a book called Two Spirit Peopleby Sue Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang. So that’s when it was decided that the old time words that the early explorers knew, like the word “berdache,” which is a French word as far as my understanding of it, would only be used in a historical context, that anything from that day forward, the word “two spirit” would be used, so that’s when it was cast in stone. In the meantime, from the March on Washington there was a group that decided that they would hold a two spirit encampment, or gathering, which was held in Winnipeg, I think, that year.
This urban myth was told about this woman that went up, I don’t know if she was a lesbian or what, but she went up and got this inspiration that that should be the word. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, it probably did, I don’t know, but that’s not where it all started.
wolfie: (laughs)my experience is that things can start in different places right around similar times.
C: Mmhmm, all that started, that idea of having that encampment and everything started there. And there are many encampments now, about 32 of them a year, there’s about 32 to 35 groups around the country. I found it amusing that I helped start those two spirit things, and then never got around to going to them until about four years ago.
wolfie: and what was your experience going to them after such a long time?
C: Well, I was kind of curious to see what they did, and you know, they’re nice gatherings. They have a sacred fire that they keep and they have pipe ceremonies and a drag show and a little pow-wow and there’s different workshops where they talk about things that are unique to two spirits and get HIV testing done there and so it’s very supportive of two spirit Indians in this day and age. I like them.
wolfie: so to further clarify, we talked about how two spirit is more a role within the culture.
C: Well it’s a role, it’s a contemporary role, and not all people identify, not all Native American people identify with the words two spirit, they feel it doesn’t describe them.
wolfie: yeah, two spirit is a modern construct.
C: It’s a very modern construct.
wolfie: for the people who lived in those old ways or even those who might identify with the modern construct, my understanding is it had nothing to do really with who you had sex with or who you married or who you slept with.
C: No, it didn’t have anything to do with who you had sex with, who you married, any of that. It was a vision, those old time people had a vision that was equally valid as any vision and should they choose to act on it, then they did.
You know it was just like the contraries, for instance, the contraries did everything backwards. When they washed their hair, they washed their hair with dirt. When they went someplace, they’d say goodbye when actually they were saying hello, and there was all of that. And the old time with their heemaneh or that type of thing, well then that was acting on your vision too and bringing it into this reality, whether that meant wearing a dress and doing women things, those people could also do men things too—it just depended on what they wanted, how they wanted to be at that time.
wolfie: so then, the people who would follow the old ways, followed their vision. what roles did they often take in society?
C: They served all kinds of roles. With Native American people, they were the vanguards, the ones who went out and explored something new. They were the ones who met the explorers because they were interested in what kind of people were coming to visit them and they were judges and they were people who held the traditions and the stories and the medicine ways and all these things. They were matchmakers, and they were the persons who took care of the elderly and took care of the children, and plus they had certain talents they could do too, to do with roots and herbs and things that were unique to those kinds of men and women. Because you know, there is a great power in-between, I think we talked about the heemaneh, in the Cheyenne stories the original heemaneh was a big giant being who had its feet on the ground and it went up into the sky and therefore was a part of both and that was the big heemanehspirit, the original heemanehspirit, you know, because it was the great power in between this and that applies to European tradition too. It’s the concept of the crossroads or having one foot in the water and one foot on the land, and there’s a great power in that because it’s somewhat nebulous. It’s a neither fish nor fowl kind of a thing so there’s a big power with that.
wolfie: that goes all the way back to sumerian culture and the only beings who could rescue inanna from the underworld were beings who were neither male nor female.
C: Yeah, so the Native American tribes recognize that power for the most part, with these people. They were also the namer of names for children and so forth.
wolfie: so you’re talking about the past and how people understood the in-between as having great power, but what about how you think our current society, let’s say, united states, western culture, views the in-between?
C: Well, those old time people did not know the concept of Christian sin. That explains a lot about how things are now, as compared to a long time, years ago, decades ago. They did not know the concept of Christian sin. Old men for instance, could walk through the camp with a big hard on, no pants or leggings or breech cloth or anything, and nobody thought anything of it. It’s just the way he was and the way he wanted to be at that moment. And there was no judgment or saying, “Oh, that’s terrible, you should cover yourself up you nasty old thing,” like that, and of course when the missionaries came amongst the tribes, the first thing they did was see these men and women in male attire and female attire and they considered that the worst abomination. That was the first thing to go underground or attempted to be destroyed, and it was almost completely destroyed. Things went way deep underground, you know.
I think we talked about Hosteen Klah. Hosteen Klah was a Navajo man, and woman. Some people say that he was…
C: Yes, intersex. He had the power to do both feminine and masculine things. He conducted sings with the Navajo ways and religion.There’s hundreds of songs that are involved and can be used with these particular sings for different ways of curing and doing things and there’s elaborate sand paintings that are done where once that’s created, they sit in the middle of that sand painting for healing, and there’s songs sung. Most people, most traditional Navajo people, consider themselves lucky and accomplished if they mastered in their life one ceremony or sing, with all the sand paintings and the songs that go with it; but Hosteen Klah at the time that he passed on he had mastered something like 10 or 15 of these things which was unheard of. He was also a master weaver, and weaving is only done by the women. He wove rugs and things like that.
wolfie: did he create whole new techniques?
C: He created a whole new tradition where he took the figures that were in the sand paintings, the sand paintings of the sings, and he translated them into woven rugs.
It was previously unheard of. You know, you had the Yeibichaifigures portrayed and things like that always in Navajo rugs now, they weren’t necessarily there before. He was the one who was responsible, he was the only one who could translate those things into it, otherwise it was very separate, you didn’t portray those beings in something like a rug, you couldn’t recreate those sand paintings based on those beings. So he did all that, he was able to do that, and he worked with a lady, a lot of his things are at the Wheelwright Museum [Now called The Wheelright Museum of the American Indian]. But Hosteen Klah was responsible for helping establish that museum and his weavings and recordings are still there today. So that’s kind of a story about him. And the old time people could do that kind of thing. They could innovate new songs, they could innovate changes in ritual, and all of that because they knew that it was within their power to do those things, but also to change them and transcend and remove them in a different way, should they choose.
wolfie: doing so from a very solid foundation, though.
C: From a very solid foundation, yes. Because they were the keepers of the song, they were the keepers of the ritual kinds of things and so they could either preserve it the way it was or change it a little bit. Or a whole lot.
wolfie: I remember there was a story that you told, I don’t remember if it was Sioux or not, but about the transfer of power and the gifting…
C: It was Lewis and Clark.
wolfie: yeah, can you tell that?
C: We should talk a little bit about that book, Hanta Yo [Hanta Yo: An American Saga, by Ruth Beebe Hill]. It was a very stodgy read, but it did have some good stuff in it, and not necessarily stuff that people wanted to get out.
wolfie: wasn’t there a little controversy about at least one of the stories?
C: Oh, there’s controversy about the whole damn book. Several people just didn’t like it, they tried to shut it down. It was turned into some kind of hokey television movie. I watched it for a while and got bored with it, it was too silly, but one of the things of course, is the gifting to these people that have these visions or this vision of living that way, some of them could foretell the future too.
The gifting of course, when somebody says they want to have their child named, if they want to have this unique gift that these people could give them, a name for their child or whatever. Well, you would go to this person you know, and you brought your gift of red cloth or tobacco or that kind of thing, but the ultimate gift was you give one of these people, who were they hamane or tennewyp or whatever, was the gift of semen. That was the most important thing. That was the ultimate gift that you could give one of these people.
wolfie: and it wasn’t like bringing a bowl with you.
C: No. It wasn’t like bringing a bowl. But you could give that to them, that was the ultimate gift because it helped them continue with their life. That was the essence of life, being the power exchanged between two people, and it would help them in a number of ways so that was the ultimate gift you gave them, that was the thing in Hanta Yowhich fried people, because that was something that was not something that people felt should get out.
And the idea of the brother-friend too, because Indian sexual preference and everything was just wide open. If a person when they were younger, they had an affinity for another male person, you could adopt that person through a ceremony called ‘making of relatives’ and that went for women too, and you could take them for your sister or your brother or your aunt or your uncle or whatever, and we still do that today. Shoshone is a little bit more informal with it than a lot of other tribes, especially with the brother-friend concept, that encompasses everything, those two men shared everything through life. You know, they always had each other’s backs in whatever way they wanted to be with each other and the same with women and the same with everybody, and that’s the way the society moved, there was no concept of Christian sin, so it was across the board, whatever they wanted to do.
wolfie: would you say that shame was introduced at the same time as sin?
C: Not necessarily shame because there was public shaming if a person transgressed the rules of the tribes or the band, you know there was even ostracizing or banishing people, but it was an entirely different concept. If you killed somebody, you could be ostracized yes, but you could also make it right by the family of the individual you killed, so, it was a whole different concept than dealing with the concept of Christian sin, ‘thou shalt not kill,’ ‘thou shalt not dah dah dah…’ that’s the stuff that was forced on us and is still hindering people today.
wolfie: coming back to the story in hanta yoand the exchange of semen and lewis and clark.
C: To draw another parallel, the Indians knew the concept of natural energy, let’s put it that way, you know, the buja, the skunskun, they knew how that flowed and they knew how that ebbed and there’s a story, I think it was with the Mandans, with Lewis and Clark. It was a ritual the Mandans did, these older men that had a proudness for being warriors and great warriors, and leaders, but they were getting on in age so what they would do is select this warrior, this old warrior to be honored and they’d have this big feast with these old men and everything, and they were all put in these earth lodges sitting there and they were plied with gifts and various things and then at the end of the ceremony, what would happen is the wife of this younger warrior would take that old man out and have sexual relations with this old man, but not just as a gift of the woman, you know, also of the warrior. It was the transference of power, that the younger warrior wanted what this old man possessed in the way of spiritual helpers and warrior prowess and that sort of thing.
So, by sending his wife out with this old man, she then incubated that power, held that power until she could share it with her partner.
wolfie: transfer it.
C: Yes. So when Lewis and Clark came on the scene, and I don’t know if it was actually Lewis and Clark that went to these things, but they thought, ‘we want what these people have,’ so they put some of the people who were in the Lewis and Clark expedition in the place of some of these old men, because they saw, ‘oh you have guns, and you have all these marvelous things,’ and that’s part of your spiritual power so we’re going to see if we can do that, you know, to transfer them, so they did, so they included them the way the old men were to obtain that power.
wolfie: so that’s a ritual that basically puts the woman in the position of being sort of the cauldron.
C: Yes, exactly.
wolfie: one of the other people who’s held up very often by gay historians is wovoka.
C: Oh yes, Jack Wilson. Wovoka, well he traveled around with younger men he called his nephews, but again, going back to what we were discussing about making relatives and things it didn’t necessarily mean that you went to bed with them or that kind of thing. When Wovoka was doing all his travelling he was kinda getting long in tooth and by nephews it could mean maybe his cousins, or maybe it could just mean a younger person who was studying with him, or maybe a lot of different things, not necessarily his nephew and it didn’t really connotate any kind of sexual relations with Wevoka and these younger men because again, Hittman, the one who wrote the book, I read that account too, and I thought, “Oh dear,” because again, they don’t understand the concept of the Indian mind.
They don’t understand that making of relatives and to them, having these Christian mores and values coming in and involved with it while he’s traveling around with these men that are quote “his nephews,” so we’re gonna think something naughty about that, but it might not have been at all, you know? Because I have no understanding of Wovoka being a two spirit person.
wolfie: he’s held up as that. he had kids, i’m not sure if he was married, but he had kids.
C: And he was a ranch worker, that’s where he got the last name, from the Wilson family where he worked for many many decades as a cowboy and a ranch hand. I read that and I just kind of thought, “Hmm. They just don’t understand the Indian mind.”
wolfie: yeah, i always kind of wondered, “what’s the evidence for this?”
C: Those nephews might have been his understudies, people that he was teaching and certainly at that time in his life, he probably needed assistance of some younger people too as well, and when you do Indian doctoring in the great basin method, you always have the second there to help you.
wolfie: one of the key points within the intent behind this anthology is exploring how queer magic is different, or if queers experience magic differently than people who are more comfortable within a fairly strict, polarity-based setting.
C: Well, that touches again on the concept of the in-between, neither fish nor fowl kind of a thing. Because there’s a great power in that in-between us and what we’ve been talking about of course is a manifestation of that power in native American society. You know, how it’s done. Also, you know, the old time Indians acknowledged a third sex which was these in-between individuals who were following these visions, either men or women, and they acknowledged that power, they recognised that power that those kind of people had.
wolfie: so, there is the concept that there is a specific power, or at least a special power?
C: Well, it went across the board. There were certain roles that all these people played and it was kind of expected of them in various tribes. It varied from tribe to tribe. You can’t speak in generalities about anything, each had their own language and customs.
wolfie: so, when did you first encounter or start picking up on western cultural magic?
C: It wasn’t until I started doing research into the old European traditions, I mean the real old traditions, or what’s left of them; reading books about them, and not only that, but going further back into Egyptian and Babylonian and things like that and the Bible of all things, it mentions a great deal about magic in there, and looking into those things, I started realizing that all these people have these different practices and they were all equally valid and powerful. And of course, then I started doing research, because I am a voracious reader, and I read all kinds of books, the Quran, everything. I’ve read all kinds of things, and later on I got to experience a lot of these things first-hand, going to different people’s ceremonies and religious events and things like that. What I’ve come to the conclusion is that there’s an element of truth and power in all of these practices. It’s when people get so exclusive that it becomes “Ours is the only way,” well, all ways is the only way, if you believe in them.
wolfie: it’s one of the things we did talk about, that there is this commonality, and the different words for it like buja, or pranaor whatever you want to call it.
C: Well, regardless of what religion it is and whatever, it’s the ability to bring down that power that the Indian people called buja, or skunskun and there’s many other traditions that have many different names for it. There’s a concept for that power. Maybe it just says it comes from god or Jesus in Christianity, but people have, some people, and I think all people if they really knew how to do it, have the ability to draw down that power. And it’s a very neutral kind of power, but it makes everything move, it makes everything go around and I really don’t think that power gives a shit about any of us.
wolfie: i think we are somewhat incidental.
C: Yes! We’re… somewhat incidental to it. Some people have a way of tapping into it or moving into it or an ability to move it or manifest it in this world for good or for bad, and you can create whatever kind of godhead you want out of it, and it will be real for you, and it will be real for whoever believes in this, because it’s a way of bringing that power down into that godhead manifestation.
wolfie: yeah, I’ve said that you have this power and you’re putting the drag on it that makes it familiar enough to you that you can work with it.
C: That’s right, mhmm, be it for good or for bad.
But nobody has exclusivity of accessing that power, and it isn’t only religions that connects us, politicians can access it too, for good or bad either, and there’s horrible manifestations when it’s been drawn down and released for bad or evil, as well as good, throughout the history of people.
wolfie: of two-legged.
C: Of two-legged… so that power, it’s what rocks your boat, whether we want to believe, whatever type of rituals you want to believe, that will bring that power down for you. You know, because it will work. Like I’ve had big times with snake charmers.
C: Yeah, had some good times with them!
wolfie: they can rock it.
C: They can rock it! And other things too, like the Yoruba traditions, Santeria traditions, I’ve been involved with them too. They all know how to do that, even the Catholic and Episcopal churches, I mean their whole ceremony, which is based incidentally on a great deal of roman tradition and the temple practices, but we won’t get into that.
C: But they still know how to attract that power, the priests do, but somewhere along the way they lost the ability to concentrate it. It’s kind of dissipated in what they do, I mean they can attract it, it’s right there! But somewhere along the line they’ve lost what to do with it. In the course of their things, they’ve made things dogmatic, and that’s where the power becomes bored, says, “Okay, I’m out of here.” But there have been some movements especially with the Episcopal church recently, you know, bringing back the laying on of hands and praying on people and stuff, so there’s been some movements of getting that back. I say right on people, that’s good, go with it. So it’s all how you do it. Whatever ritual you want to do, that will bring that power down for you. You know, per individual, or per group, because you know, my Indian people, it’s a good way that’s evolved for this land over millennia, and it works for them, should they choose to practice it. It still works, but that’s not saying that that’s the only way of doing it. There’s other ways too.
wolfie: so, we talked about two spirit being a fairly new construct, and so is “queer” as a construct.harkening back a little bit, it doesn’t seem like in native american traditions that sexuality was ever separated out the way it’s separated out in western culture.
C: No, it’s just something that’s woven in the thread of life, and it’s the Christian concept of sin that’s made it something that could be thought of as dirty, and in this country because of the people that were empowering this country, the puritans and things like that, we still carry as a country this puritan ethic that didn’t exist in Indian society at all. For us all of sexuality was just part of the weave of life, something that just ran, and it wasn’t considered anything isolated or it wasn’t considered something you did in the dark, or that was bad, or anything. It was just part of what you did in living in your day-to-day existence.The concept of sexuality being bad I think, from what I found, is something that evolved during the dark ages, especially when the church had power over everybody for better or worse and they didn’t even like the idea of people having sex at all, they barely tolerated people having sex for procreation and even that was a sin so you know, we still have this instilled in us today. That’s why we’re in a fix here and why we have a porn industry that makes billions of dollars every year because people are still secret about it.
wolfie: people get really attached to their shame sometimes.
C: With Indians, we all lived in communal houses for the most part and you know, if people wanted to be intimate with each other, well there was a lodge for that, you know, with the other people that were staying there, they knew what was going on and they just didn’t say anything. Indian people are always quiet when they do things, they’re not screamers or moaners or anything like that…
And still to this day when you do that kind of thing you’re quiet. I told this one girlfriend of mine, she got with an Indian boyfriend, and I told her, I said, “Well, how was it?” I said, “You know, Indians aren’t going to say anything, they’re not gonna scream or yell or anything, it’s gonna be all quiet.” So the next day I said, “How was it,” and she said, “Oh yeah, he just moved me around, he didn’t say anything. He just moved me.”
And it’s still that way today you know? What happens in the boundary of the buffalo room stays under the boundary of the buffalo room.
wolfie: when you brought the dance for all people [the ceremony of renewal and racial harmony based in the great plains traditions] to the radical faeries [a radical queer spirituality movement] for the first time… would you say there was a qualitative difference in how it flowed having a majority of the people in circle being queer?
C: I was curious on how it was going to work with Radical Faeries because I understood that they did earth practices with that among other things, and also I’ve always had this thought or belief that most of what you’d consider gay people in this country are like sleeping spiritual giants, should they be awakened. It’s just the way that our society has funnelaed all those unique talents and abilities and things of the in-between person into something that fits in these little boxes and you don’t dare get out of these little boxes. I was wondering how would it work if these people were awakened to this particular way and how it would move with them. It was a grand experiment, and it worked wonderful in a lot of ways because again, like we were talking about, in Native American society two spirit people are the vanguards, they’re the ones that move and change things, they’re the ones that do all this kind of the stuff. And what I found at Wolf Creek [the Radical Faerie sanctuary in Oregon] is for the most part, it’s like a, like you’re saying, a cauldron, and some of the things that they’ve done at Wolf Creek have ended up in absolute disaster, but other things that have worked, have worked very well and the other dance communities emulate them. If it works at Wolf Creek, it’ll filter through the other communities, but it was Wolf Creek that was in the vanguard.
wolfie: last night, there was a bundle opening ceremony and when iwas standing there at one point ilooked around and counted the people who were there and inoticed that probably 75% of those people were queer people – and so this ties in i think, could you talk a little bit about that, not just how the faeries changed the naraya [the dance for all people],but how the naraya is changing the faeries and queer people who come to the ceremony?
C: It is because they become more focused and they have become able to acknowledge their own inner power and strength. See, my intention when I brought the naraya to New York, was to have it focused on queer people and women, because we were disenfranchised ones, just like the Indians, we’re disenfranchised too, so to give that power, that spiritual ability back to those people, you know, and I think it’s moved in wonderful ways through the year, but that’s where the focus of the naraya has always been, is with those people. It has evolved that way, the naraya. The way I look at it is something that started out with this tradition, but is it necessarily that anymore? It’s evolved into its own thing, its own being and having mainly women and queer people, that’s the whole purpose of it. Why it’s coming to be and why it manifested when it did is becoming more and more clear as we get along in these decades because the naraya, the last time it manifested was in 1890 and that as a time of much turmoil and trouble with the Indian people and their world was rapidly changing, and now our whole world is rapidly changing, not only Indian people but everybody, we don’t know where it’s going to end and whether it’s going to end for better or worse or what, and so hopefully, it’s coming kind of clear to me why the naraya is back in the world again right now, and that’s the thing, that’s why in December I got all those elders together in New York and we had about 1000 years of experience in that room.
We were there to come up with a group statement, how is the naraya going to help us to continue and how is the naraya going to help us to keep this world on some kind of even keel or at least pick up the pieces later. And it’s all becoming very concrete on why it’s in the world right now, why it’s afoot. Because our world is changing for better or worse right now, and that’s why it’s here and that’s why it’s here mainly for women and mainly for queer people, so it will give us some way of being spiritually strong and good.
[There is a thoughtful pause.]
C: So what else are we going to talk about?
wolfie: can you articulate what you see as the difference between a queer experience of magic and i don’t know whether to call it straight magic or cis magic or what. language is so limited.
C: Well, you can say this, is that you know, a lot of European magic and even Indian, Indian spiritual ways, are based on a duality of feminine and masculine. Like last night, when we were in the bundle opening, well, that’s how we open the bundle, there has to be a woman on one side and a man on the other, and you know, men sit on one side, women sit on the other, and with the queer magic it’s across the board because it’s an in-between type of magic and that’s really where the greatest power lies, in any magic practice, is that in-between. The point that’s not fixed.
wolfie: one of the ways that we talked about this was going into the discussion of essentialism and social construction, and is there an essential feminine and an essential masculine, are they beholden to biology?
C: It doesn’t have anything to do with biology, it’s just the way that the world moves for procreative purposes. I mean, that’s the way it is, for a manifestation of life.
Up in Blackfeet country there’s the Matoki Society, that’s exclusive woman society, and they get together once a year and they build this lodge and they have their secret doings in there. And I hear about maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, they invited this man in who identified as being feminine and they invited him to be a member of that society. Unheard of, but they did, and he’s still a member of that society today because he views himself as a feminine person.
That’s one wonderful thing about Indian beliefs and other beliefs is you can’t get dogmatic about them, people say “Oh, the Indians are doing things like they did in their age-old traditions a thousand years ago, it’s the same.”… It’s not the same. You know, you draw inspiration [from the past] and you do things as an honor to that, but it’s not the same because it has to fit the people who are living now. Otherwise, if you’re just going through the motions of doing something you did, it’s going to be meaningless to the people who live now and are practicing it.
wolfie: yeah, it’s good to have the foundational knowledge and as you said earlier, the ones who tend to build and develop the new directions are the queers or two spirits or whatever word we’re using.
C: Whatever you want to call them.
C: It’s a living tradition rather than an ossified one.
wolfie: i wouldn’t exactly call modern society integrated, but to the extent that people from lots of different traditions are coming together and talking about and sharing; what do you see as the role of queer people, in terms of how things are going to continue, both magically and socially.
C: I should hope that the world is going to evolve, that spiritual beliefs are going to evolve, because I think with queer people, they have such unique gifts and viewpoints of the world, should they choose to do so, I’m not talking about the Log Cabin [Club] Republicans, that they could probably benefit the world a great deal with what they know and the powers that they have, should they choose to embrace and explore those powers.
wolfie: in some of the historical accounts that i’ve read where i’ve tried to strip the gay revisionist meme out of it, so many magical societies, both in you know, native American and other cultures around the world, have that binary of, “This is the men’s magic and this is the women’s magic.” And the in-between people were the only ones who could step into either one, so they were often the messengers.
C: That’s right
wolfie: and does that hold in your culture as well?
C: Oh yeah, very much so. The very wonderful book called Blossom of Bone, you’ve probably read it, it’s strictly about European traditions, I go back and reread that every once in a while because I’m friends with him on Facebook and later on he didn’t really think much of that book, but I love it.
wolfie: oh, it was integral for a lot of young queers.
C: I loved that book because it didn’t harken to native American traditions at all, it was going way way back into European traditions and Egyptian traditions and Chinese traditions you know, and I’ve always liked that book because it showed that it wasn’t just native Americans that believed this sort of thing, it goes back, it’s very very ancient, it’s been with us since we became the conscious two-leggeds that we are now, it’s always been with us and always been a source of power. Probably even back in caveman days, there’s evidence of, I don’t know what they call them, caveman days, but there’s evidence of them honoring that sort of unique person, there’s been burials found like that, and so that tradition has always been with us, but unfortunately, and this isn’t just Christianity, it’s other phases during the whole evolution of humanity that suppressed [in-between people] because they recognized that there was a power there, and a very unique power and something that they had to get their thumb on to control, is all about control.
wolfie: it’s all about control.
C: That’s the thing, it’s always been about that, control; I don’t want to necessarily badmouth Christianity, but you know, that’s the one most people think about, but other traditions have done that very same thing over the evolution of time too.
wolfie: i find it a little more common in monotheistic religions.
C: I agree with you, yeah.
wolfie: the one term that seems to be kind of very cross-cultural when referring to us was ‘the reed people,’ i found that in a number of different cultures because the reeds live between the land and the water and they’re hollow so that things travel through them, similar to the hollow bone concept.
C: There’s the hollow bone concept and of course amongst the Hopi people, the Hopis came upon a reed into this world for that very reason, because it was an in-between type of thing, that the reed was the only thing that could connect both of them, because of the reason it lives in the water, but it’s also in the ground.
wolfie: can you talk a little bit about the hollow bone?
C: The hollow bone concept? It goes back to the Shoshone word bujagant, and a lot of people loosely translate that as being a “medicine man” or “medicine person,” you know, but there’s really no word for “medicine man” or “medicine person” in Shoshone. Because what bujagant translates into is, the ‘”power moving through.” When you bring it down, but the word means that and it connotates being like a hollow vessel or something like that, something that’s hollow and has an opening on both ends and that’s what the word means when you really break it down in Shoshone. It doesn’t mean medicine man and it don’t mean medicine woman, it just means the vessel that the power moves through.
And so I liken it in an analogy to a hollow bone, like the bone whistles. We’re constantly polishing that bone inside and out and it’s a never-ending process to enable the power to move smoother, back and forth through you, so we’re always having to rub sections out (sound of hands rubbing together)and they’re usually something that we manifested ourselves anyways, so it’s a matter of just rubbing them, and acknowledging them for what they are, and then rubbing them out, so the power can flow through you in an efficient manner and so that’s what the hollow bone concept is, is that. Some traditions also refer to it again as the hollow reed.
It’s a lifelong endeavour to do that, to become that, the most, best polished hollow bone you can. I don’t think too many people get to the point where we’re all shiny inside and out, but we try.
wolfie: yeah, one of my Buddhist teachers always says that it’s not that our struggle is to reach enlightenment, because we’re born enlightened, and our struggle is to remember.
C: I think so too, I think that’s a good one-break.
wolfie: so talking about how so many people’s perceptions of life in general is on this binary spectrum and that so often the first one that comes up for everybody is male and female.
C: Yeah and one of the big big faults of it is its thought of as linear, and of course, with native American thinking it’s all circular, and yes, there is this essential need because of the way the world is of having a male/female duality, that’s a given, but what most people don’t think of is the other, the other practices of female with female and male with male, are part of that circle too. It always has been, since we became conscious, two-legged beings.
wolfie: yseah, none’s better than the other.
C: All of them go around in this circle, and this was manifested not only with people when we became conscious thinking beings, but also with animals and other elements and of course the Indian people living close to nature originally observed that and observed that that was part of that circle. We get back to the native American traditions recognizing that that was part of that circle of life so to speak, that you were gonna have your male/female and your male with male and your female with female but most of the people would be in-between.
There’s a fluidity. And that goes for everybody, not just native Americans, a recent example is a hundred and some years ago, two hundred years ago something like that, there’s a fluidity there that was acknowledged that that’s just the way things went in the circle and it wasn’t until, again, we get into the Christian concept of sin with native Americans, that it became something else.
wolfie: within the monotheistic structure, everything is so fixed, that’s what I see as one of the powers of queer/two spirit/epicene, whatever we’re calling it, is that there is not just a fluidity but a mobility with that.
C: It’s like water, and you know with the Native American traditions of course, the sun and the eagle is the masculine, the light, and the eagle is the messenger and the doer, and here on the other side you have the moon, and you have the owl. And the sun and the eagle is all about that rigidity, and the moon and the owl are all about secret things in the night, and also about the water, the water is part of that too, so. You have that, all again on that concept of a circle, you were asking me about what, in Shoshone tradition, was there a two spirit being in the…
wolfie: in the iconography.
C: There is, indeed. Coyote is the one who was that. He could change himself into a man or a woman, you know, with all the qualities thereof … and he was also, in his most highest aspect, he was the bringer of light and knowledge into the world by stealing the fire, you know and again, only a two spirit being could do that. Could bring that light into the world and consequently knowledge, and so there’s many other stories with Native American traditions too. Like we mentioned the heemaneh, about heemanehbeing this big giant being who had his feet in the ground and his head and upper torso in the sky, so you know there’s all kinds of things that acknowledge that circle as the way things go.
wolfie: and if i remember some of my stories, part of why coyote would change from male to female was based on who he was attracted to at that moment.
C: Who he was attracted to at that moment or some purpose that he had, that would work better with him doing that, so there’s that too.
wolfie: just in the discussion of moving forward as a species, where do you see that fluidity being beneficial? that’s kind of an obvious question.
C: All change comes from that fluidity. For better or worse, it all comes from that fluidity. People have to get back to the concept that all of those things, all those ways of being are within the circle. It was Christianity that made it bad in this western culture. In other cultures, in other traditions, it was dependent on how long the civilization lasted. It went through waxing and waning periods. That’s the natural flow of things.
wolfie: and it’s not in any hierarchical sense.
C: No, it all flows together.
wolfie: that’s been one of the problems with talking about this in the neo-pagan community. people get defensive and say, “well, you’re saying that queers are better!” and it’s like, “this is not a supremacy game.”
C: No, it’s not a supremacy game, that’s a very western concept, supremacy over, I’m better than you, blah blah blah, you know, no, it all goes together.
When we started this conversation, about how people in Indian nations recognize that there was a unique talent that everybody had within the tribe, whatever that talent was, was incorporated into the tribal structure to enable the tribe to survive, everybody had a unique talent, everybody had a unique gift and it’s part of what made things go around.
wolfie: There’s several different accounts of a ritual or ceremony that’s done with babies where they’re placed somewhere where there’s a very specifically masculine tool and a very specifically feminine tool and whichever one they crawl towards…
C: Men’s business and women’s business it’s called. Yeah. Certainly, amongst certain tribes, there’s men’s business things and women’s business, like weaving and that kind of thing, and then men’s business of course, bow and arrows and hunting and that kind of thing too.
wolfie: is that present in the Shoshone tradition?
C: You know, I’ve never come across anything like that. Uh, you know, there’s an old story about the basket and the bow and you have the baby reach for the basket or the bow, but I’ve never come across anything like that in Shoshone tradition. What is in Shoshone tradition is the acknowledgement of the child being a unique being and the encouragement of that child pursuing the way that child’s vision evolves, whether they be masculine, whether they be feminine, whatever they want to be, and that’s encouraged for that child to manifest into whatever kind of wonderful being he or she is going to be, honouring it as a tremendous gift either way. Like I was saying nobody’s ever thrown away. But I’ve never heard in Shoshone tradition about any of the things about having the child crawl to this or that, I think that’s kind of—I dunno, maybe it’s somewhere in some tradition amongst Indian people, finding the two-spirit Indian people, you hear that story and think, well, that’s okay, but… in the case of a Shoshone, no. I’ve never heard of any kind of story like that in all my investigation and talking to people and sticking my nose in everything. Shoshone are in some ways very simple in their rituals and everything, they didn’t have time for foofarah.
wolfie: in looking at these things as all being part of that circle of fluidity there’s also the honouring of the fact that that polarity is crucial to life continuing, you know that’s how things reproduce. it sounds to me as though there’s procreation and reproduction which is all crucial and part of life and we all come from it, and then there’s creation of the new and that seems to be a little more slanted within the purview of—
C: Yes! You know, that’s the thing, people can manifest children in many different ways. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical child, it can be many different manifestations of creating a conscious being, or creating conscious ways of doing and being can be likened to children too, so there’s many ways people can manifest this not just in the idea of making children.
This gets into something interesting you know, because you don’t have to really have to have a child with the duality of masculine and feminine, you can create beings that are very conscious and have substance in this world, if you know how to do it. That are living entities. That goes way out, but it’s true.
Coyote did that. in every tradition you can do that.
wolfie: there’s lots of cultures that have very queer creation myths.
C: It isn’t only queer people who can do that, anybody can do that if they know how to distill that power down, you can create conscious living beings, or you can imbue objects with a living consciousness for better or worse.
wolfie: so this may be something that is not to be addressed here, but you say if people know how, well—how do you learn?
C: Some people just have that inherent power. Others learn from…. teachers or masters, how to do this. And some people have the inherent power but it needs definition. Like that.
When you create something, writing or making or painting, you’re putting part of yourself in there. That’s part of the big secret is putting part of yourself in there. A painting or a sculpture in some manner is a magical child because it manifests from you and it has a presence in this world and people react to it, react to that presence and you just amp that up a bit further and there you have it.
wolfie: and as with many other things that are powerful, it calls for a tremendous amount of responsibility because you bring a child into the world of any form and you’re responsible for that.
C: When things are used in ritual, repeatedly, they have a consciousness about them. They develop themselves into living beings and I’ll give you an example. One time I had the opportunity to handle these Egyptian beads. They were little turquoise beads that were very very ancient, and so I’d hold them between my hands and there was a tingling, they were alive, they were, you know, there. And I think, “Well, this is interesting,” because they did have that power. Even after thousands of years, they had that power in them.
Kwai [videographer]: I want to bring up one thing,. So you mentioned the importance of duality for essentially procreation, but I would argue with that and I would say it’s not about duality, it’s about passion, attraction, that’s what is necessary for procreation.
C: Not necessarily, I disagree with that.
wolfie: on a scientific level there just has to be a male and a female. and in almost all biological organisms there’s that, they have to come together to procreate.
C: And that’s what I’d disagree with, there doesn’t have to be passion in that act. There has to be passion to create something with purpose and intent, that’s where your passion is right there, be it a man and woman creating a baby or an artist creating a picture, or a sculptor making a statue or constructing something, I’ve had many magical children in my life, sometimes in the way of buildings or courts or museums or even the naraya itself, that’s where the passion lies, and that’s when it’s wonderful, but the act of simply procreating to make a child that’s…. slam bam, thank you ma’am, boom you got a baby…
Now you have the responsibility to nurture that child, you have the responsibility to make sure that that child can develop into the fullest potential it can, and I’m not likening that just to a physical child, but anything that you have that passion for and create those things, you know, you have to guide it, you have to make it the best possible thing it can be.
wolfie: i mean, i do think that passion plays a very large part in both procreation and creation and would agree to that to the extent that I think that the creation itself is for lack of a better term, cleaner, if its been created with passion with that kind of intensity and devotion, but as far as the procreation part, that’s not always necessary to procreate, but it is absolutely necessary to create.
I think that about covers everything.
wolfie: thank you so much.
C: You’re welcome, this was wonderful!