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Passamaquoddy Honor Their Grandmother
The full moon, Grandmother to the Passamaquoddy, cast a brilliant light across the glimmering ice at the split rock at Pleasant Point Monday evening. Standing in the cold night I am warmed by a bonfire that lights the faces around me as rhythmic beating from sacred drums echoes through the still night air. Smoky tendrils curl up from the flames as young and old take turns leading the chanting which is meant to remind one to remain humble amid the people, nature, the world, and the universe.
This monthly ceremony is held at each full moon, regardless of the weather. "Grandma is still there, even if we can't see her," stated Gracie Davis, who initiated this group last May.
Preparation begins in the late afternoon. In these colder months, she prepares hot chocolate and coffee and gathers materials to build the bonfire. Monday night's fuel consisted of wooden pallets and driftwood. Sage and tobacco are brought to the site overlooking Passamaquoddy Bay and Deer Island.
"To me, it is a sacred place," said Ms. Davis. "When I am there I can feel our ancestors around me. I had a spiritual experience there once last year, " (which she promised to talk about at another time). When she arrives at the split rock, Gracie smudges all the tools with burnt sage and offers tobacco to the creator. As the ceremony continues, participants are smudged as well. Tobacco and sage have been sacred tools among the Passamaquoddy for generations.
Ms. Davis learned about the tradition from her sister in Fredericton (NB), Margaret Paul. "She has been teaching me the ways and the traditions of our people. I have a lot to learn yet." Ms. Davis' other sister, Deanna Francis, who is at college in Pennsylvania studying to be a doctor, is also teaching Gracie in the ways of the tribe's ancestors.
"At first when she tried to tell me about the ceremonies, I wouldn't listen. But she kept on and on and finally I began to understand."
As the evening goes on, Grandmother shines down on a vessel containing spring water. "Grandma shines on and blesses the water. We then pour some into a crystal vase and share a sip of the holy water. It is meant to purify and bring peace and happiness."
I am an not Passamaquoddy, but I feel a tangible energy when I attend these drumming ceremonies. It is something that must be experienced to understand the power of these rituals. Gracie stated that all are welcome, regardless of cultural background.
A sense of peace and serenity came over me Monday night, in the midst of scampering around Eastport, Pembroke and Perry. Purely by coincidence I happened upon my neighbors' ceremony. Did something guide me there, or was it just serendipity?
Worries about deadlines and power outages, and everything else that had built up inside my head in the last three hectic days, diminished as the flames danced and the smoke spiraled heavenward, as the hauntingly beautiful voices of the people drifted out to the sea and up to their Grandmother Moon. I'm not sure what forces were in charge but I am grateful to have been a part of it, if only for a short time.