Vela Giri is a respected autodidact and Vietnam vet, whose insights have informed teachers Robert Bly and Ed Tick among many. Vela is a master researcher whose own stories chart his unique path of healing. His style of encyclopedic discourse is part of what endears him to Robert. When asked to supply some writing for the Real Men/Real Words column, Vela’s submission ran to fifteen pages. Here is a portion of what he wrote, providing insight into creating and personalizing one’s own theology. – mg
The Seven Directions – Vela Giri
In the beginning, prior to the creation of the Earth, the gods resided in an undifferentiated celestial domain and humans lived in an indescribably subterranean world devoid of culture. – Lakota Sioux Creation Myth
I learned to speak to the great spirits in a way of worship typical to religions, to humbly ask them for their help or guidance. I do this, but also now decidedly, take responsibility to assist in the work of giving and creation. Briefly, I justify this because I realize we have passed the Age of Pisces, which was marked by hierarchy, into the Age of Aquarius; where we may, rather, take responsibility with due respect, and alliance, with the gods or powers that be.
The primary way that I have changed the way of the lodge is in reference to the art of calling in the directions and the relatives or relations. When filling the pipe with a tobacco herb mix, I call in the seven directions. That is, the four cardinal directions then above for the Great Spirit or God the Father, then beneath us for Mother Earth. The seventh direction is for humanity, found in the center of our heart space. I need to also offer, that the entire ceremony I describe may be done within, by an individual at his leisure, as a meditation of the heart.
Thus I call in the directions; let us face the east. Here is the magnificent one who brings the new day; we people have helped turn this lovely Earth unto Thee. We know you are the powerful one who comes with the white light of every possibility of the new day. We ask that we can help you bring forth a myriad of gifts for the people. We ask to be mature enough to stand with you in this great work.
The east is the direction of spring of new beginnings. In Chinese medicine, it is the time of re-emergence as the sun now comes into its strength. The color of green is about the element of wood. As the energy rises in the sap of trees, herbs and vegetables. We are drawn to eat the greens with more sour taste to cleanse the liver and gall bladder. We begin to cook with lighter methods of stir fry and sauté. Fermented foods add sour, liver cleaning, and probiotic elements of microbes (some of our relations). Watercress, and chickweed, become plentiful. The Eastern Green flag of the lodge’s four directional flags often moves at dawn. It is the kiss of fresh air upon our cheeks with which she, the spirit of the east, greets us. Thus, as the sun, the ultimate source of life on earth begins its arc; we follow it to the south.
We then continue our ceremony and turn 90 degrees to face the south. A pinch of mixture is added to the pipe as I address the Spirit of the south. Dear one, it is said we always face you. That is because you have given us all of our gifts, even life. But in order to return or recycle your gifts we face Thee even at the time of our death. Look at the numerous possibilities grandfather sun has brought to you from the east. The grids of the earth hold the wisdom and needs of all of earth’s beings; therefore only you can decide what gifts are appropriate for the people at this time. We ask that you may let us take part in your gift giving. Let us help prepare gardens and grow food and life’s necessities for the people, let us show we too are mature and responsible allies in the work.
In Chinese medicine, this direction it is the time of summer. The element is fire. The taste is bitter, the energy of yang expansion and fruition. The related organs are the heart and small intestine. The heart is like the sun of summer and the small intestine, and the triple heater regulate food absorption and temperature. Cooking styles are lighter and easy to digest ripe fruits, leafy greens, and veggies and bitter herbs and vegetables are advised.
We now turn 90 degrees to the west. This begins our descent into darkness and mystery. This is the terrifying place of the dark mother. In India, Kali, the eater of ego or the “false self,” in contrast to the “true self.” The depth of frightening water represents the sub-consciousness of our being where we find it challenging to go. This is also the direction of transformation. This is my primary direction and I believe that of humanity, for we are in the midst of our greatest time of maturing from an adolescent species into early adult maturity. Perhaps in the suffering we are bound to experience in this time of mass extinction, we may awaken true compassion.
I believe we as a species are passing through a rite of passage similar to a vision quest. Thus I address Her as I add to the pipe; Dear beloved one; Thee of darkness and transforming power, we come into thy profound depth as frightened beings of earth. We feel that to transform from what we have been and come into a more coherent species we must die to our former selves. Let us surrender unto Thy power so we may be wrapped in the chrysalis of becoming. Let us be wrapped in the fibers of our ancestors and elders. Here our identity may melt into liquid to be at one with Thee. Let them remind us of the ancient way of harmony with all our relations and with Mother Earth. Perhaps you may bring us the thunder beings that may augment visions of a world where we may live in harmony with the earth and all of her children.
Thus we pass into dream time that is living in all time and space. Having surrendered to the dissolution of our former being we may see possibilities of our new being and an emergent world.
I must remind you, dear reader, that this calling in or filling the pipe is a way of setting the stage for the heart of the ceremony yet to take place within the sweat lodge. Smoking the pipe within the lodge activates the possibilities spoken of in the calling in.
To return to the Chinese medicine parallels, we must employ two aspects or elements at this time. The first is that of the earth or soil in the season of late summer. It has a sweet taste and is the time of first harvest. Yin’s downward movement now begins. The organs are those of the stomach, spleen, and pancreas which receive and ripen ingested food and liquids. Sweet and round root vegetables are advised with appropriately stronger cooking styles.
Also corresponding to our western ally is the metal element. The taste to look for is pungent as energy continues to contract into the center. This is a time of storage and consolidation. The organs are lungs and large intestine. Now, we cook the deep root veggies in stews with meat broth. Ripe fruits, nuts and seeds are used for roasting and baking, while we roast in the lodge, in deep reflection.
The final horizontal dimension we call in, is that of the north. Thus we turn another 90 degrees and add more mix to the pipe. It is said that this spiritual discipline or way that I am describing is the red road, or the way of the pipe or red pipe.
Thus we address the elder Spirit of the north; Dear one; let us always walk this red road of integrity and purification. Let us walk with you as we practice the alchemy of self discipline for we have seen what we have been and have had a vision of our better self. Help us to remember the sacred way of walking this road as we pass through the hard times of life and winter.
At this time we have broken free of the chrysalis of transformation, now it’s the time to prove the metal element of autumn. We find that our being is magnificent as the butterfly is in contrast to the caterpillar that entered into the cocoon. The need of and performance of a constant purifying discipline can keep the hubris of a glorified ego at bay.
In Chinese medicine the element is now water, the season winter. The taste is salty the energy actually seems to refer back to the dream time of withdrawal and contemplation. These energies and corresponding directions bleed into and complement each other. The organs of water are the kidney and bladder. The water element assists in the alchemy of transforming the material of plant life now compacted into the soil. This creates salts for plants to absorb as nutrients in the coming spring of the wood element. In the body the kidney and bladder eliminate waste liquids and condense nutrients for bone marrow. Thus, this is a good time to cook up bone broth soups (doctrine of signature) and use more salts and stronger flavoring such as miso and other fermented foods from the harvest.
Therefore, we turn another 90 degrees to complete our turning. We now raise the pipe to the sky calling to the Great Spirit. Dear Great Spirit; let us now, as mature human beings work with you with responsibility in the art of co-creation. If we are made in Thy image then let us share in Thy work, we no longer act as a child before its father but know we are involved in the creation of the world we live in. We ask that we may work together to make it right and functional.
We now bend a knee and touch the pipe to the earth as we address our Divine Mother; Dearest beloved; we come to Thee with great appreciation for the gift of life and bounty you have bestowed upon us. We ask that we can work with you for our mutual healing. We ask that you teach us to walk upon you in a sacred manner which respects and cares for you, our mother and all of your children who we recognize as our relations.
The seventh direction which corresponds to the seventh stone is that found in the center or cave of the human heart. At this time I speak of us as miserable creatures that have lost harmony with the world and our relations. However, we are now taking the opportunity to regain that balance, to live with respect and integrity with the earth and all other beings. Now, here in our heart we enter a space to include every space in the universe and all time. Theoretical physics refers to this space as singularity, where all of creation is one, at the most profound level of being. Our intentions are thus heard and known instantaneously in every corner of reality. With this awareness, we proceed with the ritual of the lodge. As we add to the pipe we now stand and I call in our ancestors and teachers and human families. I add a pinch of mixture for every class of being such as the stone people, who hold the flesh of the earth and all of its waters and all of the beings there in. I call the four-legged, the winged, and many-winged (such as insects). I call in everything from the microbes to the star people and all other-dimensional beings. Others may offer remembrance of beings or loved ones, as I fill the pipe. I like to give special attention to all the singers from the crickets to the frogs, birds, and humans.
With the above preparation we go into the lodge always moving clockwise.
– Vela Giri
The Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota
If you wish to study the tradition of the sweat lodge, I refer you to the book, Black Elk Speaks as told to John G. Neihardt. To understand better the tradition of the pipe, you may research The Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota for which there are various sources. See Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin, for my favorite model of human development to which I allude. See also The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz. – Vela