Oak Tree and Crow: An Agnostic Awakens
In the early years of my childhood, I often spent day after day reading the Bible under the big oak tree that towered outside of my bedroom window. I would usually be camped there for hours, reading chapter upon chapter - usually the book of Revelation.
The pastor of our church warned constantly that the day of judgement was coming. The rapture would happen any day. So, I waited for it - while imagining what eternity in heaven would be like, there under my tree.
As I sat under the sprawling branches, I would lean against the hardy and solid trunk, feeling the blades of grass mixed with the strong and woody roots stretching out beneath my legs.
Being there was so peaceful that, on warm summer days, it was not uncommon for me to be hypnotized by the combined sounds of breezes rustling the leaves, the fluttering wings and cawing of the crows flying overhead or in the upper branches. When sleepiness came over me, I gave in and would allow myself to doze there underneath that shady canopy.
Because of the strict social limits set by my parents’ way of practicing their religion and our deep involvement with the Pentecostal church, I did not have many friends. That big oak tree was always there for me, a welcoming, comforting and safe “friend” to hang out with.
Not long after I moved out of my parents’ house, that big oak tree died and my parents had it removed so that part of the front yard was just a large empty lawn.
I had forgotten about the tree until recently.
Many years had passed since those days of sitting under the oak tree. In the time in-between, I had found the Pentecostal religion I was raised into was disappointing for many reasons. These reasons included the great amount of betrayal and hypocrisy I saw among the people who claimed to be Christians. Over time, my sense of God had deadened, my connection with spirit was lost. So, I became an agnostic, mostly by default. This was a natural by-product of not knowing what to believe, not trusting what I was told any longer because I had grown tired of so many people saying one thing and watching them behave in ways which showed that even they did not truly believe what they claimed.
One day, when I was 8 years old, my great grandfather came for a visit and I watched him as he was sleeping on the sofa. Although, I had spent a great deal of time with him, I had never really paid much attention to how he looked. But, on this particular day, for some reason, I noticed his physical features. I was mesmerized by how his face was beautifully strong and chiselled and that his skin was a tawny colour. In my innocence and ignorance, I told my mother how, if he had been wearing a headdress with feathers, he would look very much like an Indian Chief. She slapped me instantly and told me to never say that again - as if what I said had been stated with the intention of insulting him.
Many years later, I found out through a distant cousin that my grandmother on my mother’s side originated from Upstate New York and her father, my great grandfather, the “Indian Chief” was 100% Iroquois Indian having come from both the tribes of Seneca and Mohawk. My grandmother's mother was half-Mohawk. My great grandfather's mother (my great-great grandmother) had been a medicine woman. Somehow that part of our heritage was a shameful thing that was never to be discussed – hence my mother’s reaction. Sadly, until my cousin shared this information with me, I knew very little about that part of my ancestry.
It is baffling that my parents and many of my extended family were so willing to talk and preach at length about the Bible, about Jesus and the disciples, about all of the stories in the Old and New Testaments. But, when it came to our native ancestry, not a word was spoken. The stories of our heritage would have had genuine relevance and meaning in our lives because they were part of our history and the culture we came from.
It has become a quest of mine to learn what I can about that part of my heritage. And, from what I have learned so far is that the Iroquois spiritual approach to life makes much more sense than anything I was exposed to in my earlier years. A central aspect of their spiritual life is the view of dreams as portals and experiences into other dimensions.
In his audio book, Dreamgates, Dream Teacher Robert Moss explains the importance of the tree as a metaphor and portal for entry into non-ordinary reality. He encourages the listeners to think of a favorite tree as a "ladder" to climb or descend into the levels of non-ordinary reality. I wanted to do this exercise for myself but I could not think of a specific tree, not initially. I did not remember that oak from my childhood days.
But, then suddenly, all the images and sensations came back to me and I was 8 years old again. I had a vision of myself under the oak tree, only this time with a new focus. Rather than being there to read the Bible, I was there to commune with the tree, to draw strength from its spirit of solid rootedness from where its energy ran deep into the earth and back up again. My reason for being there was to find my own spiritual roots and purpose. I remembered the crows. Only this time, their voices calling out to me were to wake up to the truth. On the breezes, someone was whispering to me that there was way more to life than the Bible I held in my hands could ever tell me. I began to have dreams about my native American ancestors and felt their love and offer to provide help to me in this life as helping spirits.
Though I did not know it, I had already started on my path towards my native roots and the Shamanistic way of thinking in those childhood days of sitting under the tree. It was only a matter of time before I felt the calling back to that place, even if not physically.
The more I learn and experience, the more I am sure that some of the people from my past, especially the Pentecostal church, would think that it was a crazy notion, if not a message from Satan, to think that we have helping spirits who watch out over us and try their best to protect us. That these entities try to communicate with and help us through life would just add fuel to their insistence that they must be from the dark side. But, I have now come to believe it is a crazy notion and terribly misguided tenet that a single divine being could be a personal god to so many millions of people at once. Ancestors and other spirits are willing guides, companions and helpers much in the way that we perceive God to be, but at a much more personal level, with each of them offering us different levels of support, gifts and teachings.
I am so thankful to have had this experience. There must be a reason it took me so long to get here. So many times in my life I needed the wisdom and guidance of my helping spirits to tell me in what situations I should have run the other way, what people I should have never let into my heart, paths I should have followed even when I did not have the courage or confidence to do so. Mostly, I had always felt so alone in my journey through life, craving answers yet being unable to trust the answers I was given.
My choice and decision to acknowledge this spiritual way of life was the official end to my agnosticism. It is a belief and personal practice that grew from my experience of it. If nothing else, it is a way to honor my ancestral roots. But it is so much more than that. Everything about it vibrates within me as Truth in a way that the religion of my family and childhood never did.
There is still so much to learn and I have a long way to go but the road is beautiful and, it may take me a long time to find wholeness again, I can finally and truly enjoy the journey.