The Tangled Hedge

A hedge-hopping awenydd follows the Mother of Life's trackways and brings back what is needed, connecting the village with the numinous wilds.

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The Apache Sunrise Dance

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I am majoring in Anthropology, and this semester I’m taking a couple of classes on Native American history and one on the anthropology of religion, which all go together rather nicely, and I’m having fun because it’s all right in my wheelhouse, as an animistic Pagan Hedge Witch and lover of culture, especially indigenous and ancient cultures.

I have just watched a video in class about the Apache Sunrise Ceremony, a women’s coming of age rite. The women’s rite has much importance to their people, and it incorporates the sacred myth of White-Painted Woman (also known as Changing Woman or White-Shell Woman.) My teacher pointed out that Changing Woman’s name points to the menstrual cycle. He also talked about indigenous women having more power in the tribe than people from Patriarchal western culture expect, since they are often the ones running the village while the men are out hunting and fishing. My teacher is married to an Apache woman, so he knows a lot about their culture.

I was struck by how physical the ritual of the Sunrise Dance is. We don’t often think of physical strength and endurance as a feminine trait, but the Apaches (and other Southwestern tribes) do. The girl who has just reached menarche will dance for days with little rest, and run in the four sacred directions, and must refrain from crying throughout the days-long rite. By the end her godmother helps her make the movements of the dance, and she must stand from sitting position with only the help of two eagle feathers. She will be very proud to accomplish all this, and it gives a great self-esteem boost, and she receives esteem and blessings from her community. She is seen as strong enough to be a woman, now.

Zuni girls are apparently quite the runners, and Southwestern college athletics often have superb women’s track teams, thanks to the Native women who have run since childhood. I’m not sure about the boys, because my teacher didn’t talk much about them, only saying that the U.S. government has suppressed the men’s rites to discourage the warrior culture.

I found the Mountain Gods or Mountain Spirits and the Crown Dancers who invoke and embody  them very intriguing. Four Mountain Spirits and a Sacred Clown or Trickster figure dance at some point during the rite, and they look magnificent and otherworldly! They are masked with eerie-looking cloth-wrappings and wear tall wooden headdresses, making an impressive guising that would certainly awe me. (This article has some great pictures and more information. You can also see videos on YouTube.)

Another thing that intrigued me was the use of cattail pollen for blessing and using in the paint that the girl is painted with, as well as the poles or trees that form a structure in the center of the field of the ritual. As someone interested in ethnobotany, I want to learn more about those and the meanings of these plants in their culture. The video mentioned fecundity, and in class someone said that every part of the cattail plant is edible.

I found all of this so interesting that I wanted to share it here, since it happens to also be relevant to the SageWoman Blogs’ focus on Goddess and women’s spirituality. Perhaps others will be intrigued and want to learn more, too. I’d be happy to hear what you learn if you research it, or if you happen to know more.

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Lia is an awenydd, writer, journal editor (A Beautiful Resistance), copyeditor (Druid Magazine), hedge witch, mother, musician, OBOD Bard, and anthropology major, living in the wild, enchantingly beautiful mountain west (USA). Her spiritual influences tend toward the ancient and indigenous, with a future-focused hope that humanity will return to a spiritually-rich and thriving sustainability.


  • Paola Suarez
    Paola Suarez Sunday, 08 September 2013

    I really enjoyed your post Lia. I went to give it 5 stars and the iPad messed up to to 2.5. Wanted you to know so you wouldn't think it was on purpose. You shared a lot of great info. I will be sharing it with my circle sisters. Blessings!

  • Lia Hunter
    Lia Hunter Saturday, 14 September 2013

    Thank you for the comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed it, Paola. Blessings to you, too! :)

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