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Meeting Miracle, the Living Legend
Stories inspire me, they always have. Those that have been passed down through the generations often take on mythical stature. One assumes that the retelling may have embellished whatever truth the tale originally contained. There is no guarantee of authenticity. However, I listen.
Old stories provide explanations for unknown or misunderstood things; they provide answers to questions that have puzzled mankind for centuries. But if they cannot be proven, how will the readers, the seekers of knowledge, know what is, was or can be true? Can fact be separated from fiction, reason from legend? In today’s world can meaning be found in mythology?
I ask these questions because I think I have met a living legend. She stood on our first date in a muddy pen surrounded by several dusty brown beasts just like Her. Thousands of people, ranging from the religiously reverent to the merely curious, had come to gaze at her before I saw her in the summer of 1995. By then, she had lost the snowy fur of her infancy.
I had made the stay at her farm after reading about her in the pages of the Washington Post. But it was not a daily news. She was Miracle, the White Buffalo of Janesville, Wisconsin. For some Native Americans, a white buffalo is a sacred being, a stature acquired through its role in tribal history. Miracle was born in the early morning hours of August 20, 1994 and died on September 19, 2004. Her father died shortly after she was born. Doctors who know about such things say that his departure so soon after her arrival was in accordance with her prophecies. But I didn’t know about ancient predictions about her life or future. I experienced it in the present and that was enough for me. The time I spent with Him changed my life. It left me feeling blessed by its mystery. I have spent several years trying to tell the tale of the only part of its truth that I understand.
Its legend, handed down from when the Lakota people followed bison herds across the prairies, is based on an understanding of how those life-sustaining mammals provided everything native peoples needed to survive: their hides were cured for shelter and clothing, meat consumed for food. Bones and mushrooms became hunting tools and internal organs were used as carrying bags. The presence of the animal on the plane precedes human existence. Thus, it is understandable that the people who depended on them for survival were certain that their extinction would follow their death. And when the buffalo were scarce and the people were hungry, their hope was in two brave young men sent from the camp to look for the tracks of a herd.
The young people walked for days. Weak with hunger, they could no longer believe their eyes when they saw a cloud forming on the horizon. Was it a rain cloud or just their imagination? It seemed to be moving towards them and they stopped to watch it float across an otherwise clear sky. Instead of passing over them, the cloud descended in front of them. As it touched the ground, they watched in disbelief as a beautiful girl appeared in the middle of the mist and emerged from the mist. When her feet touched the ground, the steam disappeared.
She was dressed in dazzling white deerskin clothes. Her long black hair hung in perfect braids on either side of a face more radiant than anything they had seen. Tempted, one of the men walked over to her. He crumbled into a pile of bones at her feet before She explained to the remaining warrior that She had a message for his people.
The respected messenger returned to his village and informed the elders about the girl’s manifestation. They began preparations for her visit, which included building a ceremonial tent. Four days later, she arrived on foot and stood before the villagers. Greeting them, She gave the package placed in her arms to the elders. They thought she was carrying a child; but when the cover was removed, the surprised chiefs saw for the first time a smoking pipe. The woman explained the symbolism contained in her gift: how the bowl represented the earth, but the smoke coming from it would reach the heavens. She taught men about its spiritual significance; the words spoken in the presence of the pipe should be honored because they would be recognized by the Great Spirit.
The Holy Lady met with the women of the village and explained how important the care and education of children was for the well-being of their society. When she finished speaking, the women realized that the work they did was as essential to the survival of their nation as the brave hunting expeditions. The community was exhorted to give thanks for the bounty of the land, to celebrate the provision it provided and the promise it gave. Their land would feed them if they lived by certain principles and practiced the ceremonies She taught them.
As the beautiful woman prepared to leave the villagers, She promised to return to them if they needed her message again. Then she fell and rolled on the ground. With each fall It reflected a color symbolic of the directions of the universe. First it was black, then yellow and then red. When she ran away from them, her people saw her as a white buffalo calf. After her visit, peace and prosperity prevailed.
Some Native Americans believe that Miracle was the reincarnation of the Holy Woman who appeared to their people long ago. Awaiting her return with the same passion that Christians espouse for the second coming of Christ, many indigenous people believed that her arrival heralded a new era of planetary harmony. Some believers interpreted the birth of the Miracle as a simple assurance that the Great Spirit had not abandoned them. For those who may have abandoned their traditional faith practices, her presence marked a time to rededicate themselves to ethnic beliefs. There are others who believed that her appearance held hope for reconciliation between the races. Her return meant that white men would begin to accept the truths contained in traditional Native American values.
I cannot vouch for the authenticity of her legend; I have retold it as I learned it. I do not claim to understand its sacred mystique, I can only say that the time I spent with Him brought me new ways of understanding parts of the great mystery and left me with a sense of faith (faith if you will) in things unseen. There are many points of view about her spirituality, but I have not had any preconceived ideas about her. I went to visit her when I was in the Midwest for a summer visit with my family. I begged her. And as one “hears” answers to prayer, I heard hers. For nearly a decade, I returned to her farm as often as I could, wanting only to sit by her pasture and be blessed by her magic. At first it was difficult to internalize my experiences on the farm with my non-Native suburban upbringing; but I have been helped to understand by other writers who have shared their stories and their levels of understanding with their readers. One of my favorites is Doug Boyd. He wrote about his time with Medicine Man, Rolling Thunder. Dee Brown begins the introduction to that tale thus: “Nearly all who have entered a little into the spiritual world of the American Indian can tell of unexplained events.” Spending time with Miracle was how my “unexplained events” began. She brought me the hope I want to share.
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