Tonantzin,The Red Thread and Cosmic Cowgirls
Note from Shiloh about Tonantzin,
The Red Thread and The Birth of Cosmic Cowgirls
I am so excited and grateful that my dear friend, Native Elder Tonantzin Cihualcoutl Guerra will be joining us for the whole weekend and sharing with us through the Native American circle teachings as well as the Indigenous stories surrounding Our Lady of Guadalupe. She told me things a few days ago that I had never heard of before regarding The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and her name sake, the Goddess, Tonantzin.
I have worked with Tonantzin for many years through my journals and painting workshops with the women in Tribal Tannif in Bakersfield, California. I am honored to have her presence and wisdom with us this weekend. Tonantzin is bringing water from the mountains of Tepayac where the Virgin first appeared to Jaun Diego! She has been a spiritual mother to me since first meeting her – and we are together even when we are apart. It is amazing when you get to have a relationship with someone that is not based on being together – although we have seen eachother about once a year since our first meeting.
Our Lady of Faith ©2009 Shiloh Sophia
Tonantzin had come into the Sonoma Gallery many years ago – and picked up a copy of the Color of Woman Journal. She called me around two years later and said she had used the journal and just finished the last page. She wanted to make sure it was the right thing – and that it worked (and I am paraphrasing) before she got copies for all the Native Women in her area. Long story short, soon I was off to Bakersfield to share in the Native Wellness Circles she had created and offered through the Owen’s Valley Tribal Taniff http://www.ovcdc.com/. Years later, they are still ordering the journals…I feel so honored to have these books used by women who are telling their story in writing and image.
Accepting the teaching position was very exciting and also, a bit daunting. I was much younger then – and thinking that I was not qualified to pull of teaching journaling to these wise women. On my drive I had a lot of time, to think and to pray about who I was going to BE with them. I thought, I am a white, 29 year old woman – what do I know? What if they don’t like me? What if I don’t know what to do? Needless to say, I was scared. I had not met Tonantzin before and so I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I felt -unqualified- for the job. So on the way there – I asked the Blessed Mother, what do I do?
And as if by miracle, the words came into my mind:
The Red Thread Ceremony
And I said, what’s that?
I did not hear an answer.
I just happened to have a ball of red thread in my paint box that my dear friend and fellow artist, Elizabeth had given to me. (I also had a bunch of red tickets, red glitter and my flaming heart shaped lighter from Paris. I guess they were all hanging out together with the brushes and the paint ). The thread was red and fancy and sparkley. The most beautiful thread I had ever seen.
I met Tonantzin in Bakersfield at Starbucks and we drove together up and up to Lake Isabella in the Kern River area. I chattered on to her – somewhat nervously – about my great great Grandmother who was rumored to be Native American but we never did find out for sure. This was the Grandmother of Eden McCloud, who many of you know about because of my sharing her passing with you this past May. Her name was Nasaya, which upon my research I found it was Sanskrit for something to do with the nose. Grandma Eden said her hair was pure black, and she was small and very brown. They lived in Oregon and her Grandmother would come and pick herbs from the forest and make up “remedies” for the sick and for the household. She also, she said, would clean the slats in the wood floor with a hair pin to get it really clean. My own Grandmother took on her Grandmother’s affinity for herbs and healing and raised my mother, and brother and sister and I, with as much natural stuff in the house as she could. I never went to the doctor – we ate healthy and took vitamins and Grandma would make polstices and saaves and stews. I was telling her all this – why? To somehow make a link to maybe having some Native blood connection to this land. This a natural kind of nervous to be when one is in the presence of the Indigenous. When you don’t know how to be appropriate, yet you want to belong, yet it must have sounded kind of silly to her now that I think about it. In my own way I was trying to make myself, be connected. Be ok.
With Tonantzin that was not needed. She reads the heart.
Once we were in circle, I got out the thread and my Grandmother’s scissors and the Red Thread Ceremony was born. And, it did what it was intended to do – it created a safe space for all of us to be held inside. We did the circle several times all over the county, including at the office of the Delores Heurta Foundation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolores_Huerta
I found sisterhood and story and ceremony and kinship with these women, who welcomed me in the warmest manner one could hope for. They took the work of storytelling through written image and word to heart – and years later I had the priveledge of seeing some of their journals filled up to overflowing with color and plant and thread and feather and photo and yes, glitter. I will be sharing the simplicity of the Red Thread Ceremony with you in my upcoming blog in the new year. Those of you who have worked with me, know that we use it every single time.
At one of our circles, a woman who had already been using She Dances Between the Worlds, came up to me and said she was excited to tell me something! What!? I asked. She said, I am a Cosmic Cowgirl! She was African and Native American. Now the amazing thing is – that Cosmic Cowgirls had JUST begun – it was not a company or a brand. It was a writing I included in She Dances as a inspirational muse identity – and I got the website but I had no idea at that time what it would become. And it was on that very trip home, that my husband Isaiah and I came up with the model for what would become Cosmic Cowgirls Ink, LLC, Publishing Company. We were driving through a very amazing area and he said, wow – this seems like the kind of geography where visions happen -. mile. And so we visioned. It was in that space, and my prayer to Our Lady, that Cosmic Cowgirls was born.
I was invited back sometime later, by request of the women. Many of them had filled their books – and were now ready for a new one. We painted medicine shields, journaled told stories and learned about one another about what it means to overcome. I am most grateful to Tonantzin for using and sharing the books with the intention that they were created for – healing and creativity!
When I asked her a few questions about her to share with you, here is some of what I gathered. Tonantzin is a Native American Elder and Spiritual Teacher who works with plants and ceremony and circle from the ancient traditional knowledge – balanced with the experience of where we are today. She was raised within her tradition and taught by her elders. She is recognized in South and North America and has participated in ceremony all of her life. She was the first Native American woman hired as a Chaplain for the sate of California, Dept of Corrections. She has three children, is very happily married and resides in Tehachapi, California.