VINTAGE NAUGHTY! I Am Gagöhsa.
From 2012... An honor to work among the ancestors and with the Seneca Nation.
A few months ago, I got a call inviting me to work with a family from an Iroquois Indian Nation in NY. I said, “Are you sure you don’t want to work with my mentor?” She said, “Nope, you are the one to work with my father. He is sick and no one can figure out what it is. He said he needs the “Old Medicine” and all of our shamans are gone.”
The word hit me between the eyes like a bullet. The second round hit me in the heart as I traced back the history of how it had come to pass that in this great Nation had lost it’s Wisdom Keepers. It had been my Anglo-Saxon ancestors who came and conquered. I knew this call was much more than a call to help a man who was ill. This was a call for ancestral healing. An Anglo-Saxon woman would be going to work with a Seneca Elder to remind a family of the Wisdom teachings. I knew I would need some help for this heavy hitter.
I went straight into ceremony. I called in the ancestors of the Peruvian lineage of my training because now, they are also my lineage and I thank them every day for the gifts passed down to me. I asked them to support me in what I was called to do. They cleared me of some lingering doubt and fear I held regarding my age old question,
“Who am I to be doing this work? Shouldn’t someone better be doing it? I am just a white girl from Ohio after all.”
The ceremony helped me remember that Wisdom Keepers come from bloodlines around the world and my Scotch/English/Irish/Gypsy heritage was more than enough. I then called on my Ancestors, thanking them for all that they did to bring my family here so that we would survive and find freedom. I asked them if they would be willing to walk behind me for the healing of their people. They agreed.
Finally, I called upon the Seneca Nation ancestors, thanking them for enduring and adapting so that this strong family could go on and be prosperous. I asked them to join me for the healing of this man and his family and also for any greater healing necessary between our ancestors. After six days of ceremony I finally had everyone on my team and I booked the flight to the Res.
Three weeks later, I sat across from the old man. His skin was the color of sunset on red cliffs. Although he was 82 he looked more like 60. Broad shoulders, bright eyes, straight back and legs. He owned and still ran several successful businesses all over the Midwest. And although he was too weak to rise from bed very often, he commanded great respect and power.
I think my blond hair and high heels arrived before I did because it took me a while to establish conversation with the family. I even heard one of the old women make a whispering reference to “Barbie.”
It would have been my worst nightmare, but today, I had work to do. The old man looked me up and down like he had Soul X-Rays for eyes. I could almost hear his thoughts, “YOU are a Shaman?” He gave me a skeptical glance and peppered me with questions starting with, “You are a Shaman – how?” and ending with “What does a shaman do?” I was humbled. And instead of answering I said, let me show you. And for three days, I did.
I opened Sacred Space to help us step into non-linear time and call upon my Ancestral Super Team to join us and make all of our interactions for the highest good of all involved. As I talked for an hour or so explaining to the elder what a Shaman does, we were joined by three powerful lineages. Standing behind me were the Anglo ancestors, some of whom carried the guilt of conquering and were filled with fear. Behind him were a Nation of people grieving for the lost ways and some still filled with anger. My Peruvian lineage joined by medicine people from the other lineages encircled us holding us all in an arena of light and safety where truths could be seen, and healed.
As I listened to this man’s life story, I recognized his story as an archetypical story of a hero. Despite many challenges, he rose to meet them, created and prospered. His children, like many in our generation, had married people from other cultures, from other bloodlines. The traditions and language were getting lost. And while the father was proud of his family and honored the choices they made, this heavy loss of the old ways was literally clogging the old man’s bloodlines. The illness that was plaguing this man was in his veins and arteries that were no longer able to flush out toxins and his little toe was being amputated the next day due to a “blood disease” and infection that wasn’t quite diagnosable.
The Ancestors did a majority of the work on behalf of this family as we all honored them in ceremony - all of them. As each lineage was healed and freed from the guilt, fear, anger and shame that plagued them, they were able to see that the cosmos has always unfolded in perfection, even in the most difficult moments. As they healed, the Ancestors were releasing the binds that held this family to tightly to a past filled with deep grief and loss. As the wisdom, trust and forgiveness started to flow through both ancestral bloodlines, the old man was able to release an ancient anguish that he was not aware that he had been carrying. I could see the oxygenation of the blood become more efficient and the blood-flow to the extremities increase as he was released from this ancestral bind. He was free again. No longer carrying the burdens of previous generations.
These ancestors who were seeking healing in this family line and causing all kinds of problems, were stalking more than just the old man. I worked on many other members of the family, listening to secrets, removing old energies, angry entities, generational curses, and grief that were no longer necessary for the family to carry. I helped them clear their land of lost and grumpy Spirits and other entities that needed to go home.
We honored deeply the lineages for assembling for this moment of healing and thanked the illness that brought us all together for this powerful work. I talked to the adult children about the practices of the modern Shaman and encouraged them to seek training and bring life back to the old ways. I shared many tools that they could use that would reconnect them to the Old Medicine. They have kept honoring the ancestors through altars and through fire ceremony and the old man is regaining his mobility, strength and happiness.
When I was getting ready to leave, the mother said to me in her broken English.
”You look like nice soft Barbie.”
“Don’t let that fool you!” I laughed.
She stared right into me. Pointing at me with her cigarette, she said,
“No. You Gagöhsa. You Seneca. I see you, you Gagöhsa.”
Tears burned my eyes because I could tell it was an honor what she was saying. We hugged and I left the beautiful Bear Clan as family and as Gagöhsa. When I got home, I looked up Gagöhsa. For me it marked a turning point of letting go of the power of beauty and humbly stepping into a deeper layer of this work where ugly is beauty and power. It is an honor of going from Barbie to Gagöhsa.
The Gagöhsa – the Story
The Gagöhsa, or False Face Society, is important to the heritage of the Iroquois Nation – of which Seneca is a part. Legend and lore tell of the Creator who was one day enjoying the creation he had made here on Earth. He had not populated yet with people, and so was enjoying the trees and mountains, wind and sun. But then he saw another walking toward him and said, “I am the creator of this place. Who are you?” The stranger said, “I am also the creator.” To determine who was the most powerful, and therefore the true creator, they decided on a contest.
They would each try to move the mountain. Whichever person moved the mountain the farthest was certainly more powerful and therefore the true creator. They would turn their backs on the mountain one at a time and whoever moved the mountain the furthest was the one true Creator. The stranger was going to go first. With their backs turned, the creator decided to play a trick. He willed the mountain to move closer to the stranger so that he would have to move the mountain really far. Before they could turn around, there was a great noise behind them. The stranger turned around so fast to see what was going on that he smashed his face into the mountain - and it moved! The creator had brought the mountain so close to the stranger that when he turned around, he smashed his face right into the side of the mountain and broke his nose!
The creator was impressed that he moved the mountain at all, but recognized that he couldn’t let this guy live with his people – he was too powerful - almost as powerful as him. Just as he was about to send him off to the underworld, the stranger begged and said, “I will help protect and heal your people. I am connected to the wind and waters and can heal and protect them.”
And so it came that the one with the crooked nose can be called upon for healing. You must create a sacred mask or false face in his disfigured image and the powers of the Gagöhsa would be yours.
The Gagöhsa is thought of as the Great Defender in the Iroquois Nation. They were a group of sages and medicine people who would put on masks, make noise, chant and chase threatening spirits and illness from the people. To this day, some Iroquois believe that Gagöhsa protects them in times of need, redirecting fierce winds that threaten them and giving healing those who are ill.
When I was 13 years old I broke my nose. I was leaning down under a picnic table and someone yelled my name. I turned around so fast that I cracked my face on the wooden table making a hairline fracture in my nose, which has never been straight since. I am a white girl from Ohio, and I am Gagöhsa.