To tell you about the power of the body in another way, I have to tell you a story, a true, rather long story.
For years, tourists have thundered across the great American desert, hurrying through the “spiritual circuit”: Monument Valley, Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Kayenta, Keams Canyon, Painted Desert, and Canyon de Chelly. They peer up the pelvis of the Mother Grand Canyon, shake their heads, shrug their shoulders and hurry home, only to again come charging across the desert the next summer, looking, looking some more, watching, watching some more.
Underneath it all is the same hunger for numinous experience that humans have had since the beginning of time. But sometimes this hunger is exacerbated, for many people have lost their ancestors. They often do not know the names of those beyond their grandparents. They have lost, in particular, the family stories. Spiritually, this situation causes sorrow… and hunger. So many are trying to recreate something important for soul sake.
For years tourists have come also to Puyé, a big dusty mesa in the middle of “nowhere”, New Mexico. Here the Anasazi, the ancient ones, once called to each other across the mesas. A prehistoric sea, it is said, carved the thousand of grinning, leering, and moaning mouths and eyes into the rock walls there.
The Diné (Navajo), Jicarilla Apache, southern Ute, Hopi, Zuni, Santa Clara, Santa Domingo, Laguna, Picuris, Tesuque, all these desert tribes come together here. It is here that they dance themselves back into lodge pole pine trees, back into the deer, back into eagles and Katsinas, powerful spirits.
And here too come visitors, some of whom are very starved of their geno-myths, detached from the spiritual placenta. They have forgotten their ancient Gods as well. They come to watch the ones who have not forgotten.
The road up to Puyé was built for horse hooves and moccasins. But over time automobiles became more powerful and now locals and visitors come in all manner of cars, trucks, convertibles, and vans. The vehicles all whine and smoke up the road in a slow, dusty parade. Everyone parks trochimocki willy-nilly, on the lumpy hillocks. By noon, the edge of the mesa looks like a thousand-car pileup. Some people park next to six-foot tall hollyhocks thinking they will just knock over the plants to get out of their cars. But the hundred-year-old hollyhocks are like old iron women. Those who park next to them are trapped in their cars.
The sun turns into a fiery furnace by midday. Everyone trudges in hot shoes, burdened with an umbrella in case it rains (it will), an aluminium folding chair in case they tire (they will), and if they are visitors, perhaps a camera (if they’re allowed), and pods of film cans hanging around their necks like garlic wreaths.
Visitors come with all manner of expectations, from the sacred to the profane. They come to see something that not everyone will be able to see, one of the wildest of the wild, a living numen, La Mariposa, the Butterfly Woman. The last event of the day is the Butterfly Dance. Everyone anticipates with great delight this one-person dance. It is danced by a woman, and oh what a woman. As the sun begins to set, here comes an old man resplendent in forty pounds of formal-dress turquoise. With the loudspeakers squawking like a chicken espying a hawk, he whispers into the 1930s chrome microphone, “An’ our nex dance is ganna be th’ Butterfly Dance.” He limps away on the cuffs of his jeans.
Unlike a ballet recital, where the act is announced, the curtains part, and the dancers wobble out, here at Puyé, as at other tribal dances, the announcement of the dance may precede the dancer’s appearance by anywhere from twenty minutes to forever. Where is the dance? Tidying up the camper, perhaps. Air temperatures over 100 degrees are common, so last-minute repairs to sweat-streaked body paint are needed. If a dance belt, which belonged to the dancer’s grandfather, breaks on the way to the arena, the dancer would not appear at all, for the spirit of the belt would need to rest. Dancers delay because a good song is playing on “Tony Lujan’s Indian Hour” on radio Taos, KKIT (after Kit Carson).
Sometimes a dancer does not hear the loudspeaker and must be summoned by foot runner. And then always, of course, the dancer must speak to all relatives on the way to the arena, and most certainly stop to allow the little nephews and nieces a good look. How awed the little children are to see a towering Katsina spirit who looks suspiciously, a little at least, like Uncle Tomás, or a corn dancer who seems to strongly resemble Aunt Yazie. Lastly, there is the ubiquitous possibility that the dancer is still out on the Tesuque highway, legs dangling out the maw of a pickup truck while the muffler smudges the air black for a mile downwind.
While awaiting the Butterfly Dance in giddy anticipation, everyone chatters about butterfly maidens and beauty of the Zuni girls who danced in ancient red-and-black garb with one shoulder bared, bright pink circles painted on their cheeks. They laud the young make deer dancers who danced with pine boughs bound to their arms and legs.
People jingle coins in their pockets. They suck their teeth. The visitors are impatient to see this marvellous butterfly dancer. Unexpectedly then, for everyone is bored to scowls, the drummer’s begin to cry to the Gods for all they are worth.
To the visitors, a butterfly is a delicate thing. “O fragile beauty”, they dream. So they are necessarily shaken when out hops Maria Lujan. And she is big, really big, like the Venus of Willendorf, like the Mother of Days, like Diego Rivera’s heroic-size woman who built Mexico City with a single curl of her wrist.
And Maria Lujan, oh, she is old, very, very old, like a woman come back from dust, old like old river, old like old pines at timberline. One of her shoulders is bare. Her red-and-black manta, blanket dress, hops up and down with her inside it. Her heavy body and her very skinny legs made her look like a hopping spider wrapped in a tamale. She hops on one foot and then on the other. She waves her feather fan to and fro. She is The Butterfly arrived to strengthen the weak. She is that which most think of as not strong: age, the butterfly, the feminine. Butterfly Maiden’s hair reaches to the ground. It is thick as ten maize sheaves and it is stone gray. And she wears butterfly wings-the kind you see on little children who are being angels in school plays. Her hips are like two bouncing bushel baskets and the fleshy shelf at the top of her buttocks is wide enough to ride two children. She hops, hops, hops, not like a rabbit, but in footsteps that leave echoes.
“I am here, here, here…
“I am here, here, here…
“Awaken you, you, you!”
She sways her feather fan up and down, spreading the earth and the people of the earth with the pollinating spirit of the butterfly. Her shell bracelets rattle like snakes, her bell garters tinkle like rain. Her shadow with its big belly and little legs dances from one side of the dance circle to the other. Her feet leave little puffs of dust behind. The tribes are reverent, involved. But some visitors look at each other and murmur “This is it? This is the Butterfly Maiden?” They are puzzled, some even disillusioned. They no longer seem to remember that the spirit world is a place where wolves are women, bears are husbands, and old women of lavish dimensions are butterflies.
Yes, it is fitting that, Wild Woman/Butterfly Woman is old and substantial, for she carries the thunder world in one breast, the underworld in the other. Her back is the curve of the planet Earth with all its crops and foods and animals. The back of her neck carries the sunrise and the sunset. Her left thigh holds all the lodge poles, her right thigh all the she-wolves of the world. Her belly holds all the babies that will ever be born.
Butterfly Maiden is the female fertilizing force. Carrying the pollen from one place to another, she cross-fertilizes, just as the soul fertilizes mind with night dreams, just as archetypes fertilize the mundane world. She is the centre. She brings the opposites together by taking a little from here and putting it there. Transformation is no more complicated that that. This is what she teaches. This is how the butterfly does it. This is how the soul does it.
Butterfly Woman mends the erroneous idea that transformation is only for the tortured, the saintly, or only for the fabulously strong. The Self need not carry mountains to transform. A little is enough. A little goes a long way. A little changes much. The fertilizing force replaces the moving of mountains.
Butterfly Maiden pollinates the souls of the earth: It is easier that you think, she says. She is shaking her feather fan, and she’s hopping, for she is spilling spiritual pollen all over the people who are there, Native Americans, little children, visitors, everyone. She is using her entire body as a blessing, her old, frail, big, short-legged, short-necked, spotted body. This is woman connected to her wild nature, the translator of the instinctual, the fertilizing force, the mender, the rememberer of old ideas. She is La voz mitológica. She is wild woman personified.
The butterfly dancer must be old because she represents the soul that is old. She is wide of thigh and broad of rump because she carries much. Her grey hair certifies that she need no longer observe taboos about touching others. She is allowed to touch everyone: boys, babies, men, women, girl children, the old, the ill, and the dead. The Butterfly Woman can touch everyone. It is her privilege to touch all, at last. This is her power. Hers is the body of La Mariposa, the butterfly.
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes (excerpt from Women Who Run With The Wolves)
I love this story and its moral. I hear it many years ago on a tape of Clarissa's and played it over and over. I have looked for it many times and just recently found it on facebook.