Walking the path of the Red Road

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Walking the path of the Red Road


Back in 1997, by sheer luck and coincidence, I was fortunate enough to meet a traditional Lakota Elder.  He told me I was walking the path of the Red Road.  Life is full of synchronicity and little adventures. Some we miss by not being present. Some hit us straight in the face, and some happen because there meant to happen; we just don’t realise it at the time. This was the latter. 

I was staying in Sedona after a buying trip from around the reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. I had just walked into the Coffee Pot Restaurant when Ted Kills in the Fog comes over and sits down. I had met Ted a few times previously, and as usual, he was happy to spend an hour spinning his yarns over breakfast or lunch. I had seen some wolves or coyotes whilst in ceremony at Kachina Rock the night before. That morning I had found a scorpion at the foot of my bed.  I was feeling very blessed, happy to be alive, still alive, and very blessed. 

Ted could tell a few stories; he was entertaining. He had received his name after a hunting party had gone out searching for food on a foggy day, and he was the one who brought back the kill. He was only young at the time and yet to receive his spirit name, and so the elders named him Kills in the fog

Ted was taking a tour out the following day along the Oak Creek Canyon trail; it’s a beautiful steep, narrow, colourful gorge trail very popular with tourists. He wanted to know if I would like to tag along.

I had a beautiful day out. It is one of the most visited places after the Grand Canyon. We followed the River at the bottom of the canyon, crossing it back and forth along the way. During the day, Ted mentioned that there was a sacred gathering happening the next day. He would be off on an airport run but said, “it’s only for those who follow the Red Road. If you’re meant to be there, you will be there.” 

The next day after lunch at the Coffee Pot, my partner and Richard, my son ventured out for a drive up to Flagstaff. We were going to meet some students who supplemented their college fees by making traditional Navajo liquid silver jewellery. We took our time; the road is full of twists and turns as it climbs out of the desert when suddenly, I see a small flash of red in the trees. 

We turned around, drove back and search for the flash of colour. We couldn’t find it, so after a while start again up the road. Again, I saw a flash of red. We turn off the road and back along the red dirt track by the road to search for the red flash. We eventually found, hanging in a tree, a tiny red fabric bundle.

I was so excited. The red bundle was hanging beside a track that went down into a forested area. So we drove down the path. It was bumpy and looked dangerous, but we kept going. Every time there was a fork in the track, we searched for another red bundle. It wasn’t easy. Some were well hidden, and it took a while, but eventually, we came to a halt when the bundles stopped. We couldn’t go any further. The track finished!  We could hear distant drumming and singing, so we got out of the car and followed the music. In a clearing, we found a small gathering – possibly twelve men and women and a handful of children. 

We were warmly welcomed, and offered water, a blanket and a  prayer tie each. We were told the ceremony would begin soon. I remember thinking, how exciting.  Was this the sacred ceremony Ted had mentioned? 

The construction of the sweat lodge at the centre of the clearing had my attention. It was made of hides and rope that looked like a low igloo. There was a big fire burning, food being prepared, and I noticed large rocks in the fire. 

Richard was talking to the children under the trees, and my partner wandered off for a smoke. I thought I’d get a better look at the sweat lodge and started to explore. As I walked around the back of the lodge, an elderly man was stood by a tree.  

He came forward to greet me; we shook hands. No one else was around; I didn’t hear the others. All I could sense was the smell of piñon pine on the fire and feel the breeze of the wind through the trees.  It felt like I was meant to be there. I had been drawn there, I had a strange sense of inner knowing and clarity.

“Welcome,” he said, “I have much to tell you.” So we sat on a log, and he told me of the teachings of the Red Road. 

He was born in 1921 and had been raised by his shamanic elders on the Lakota reservation lands. He walked the path of the Red Road all his life and said his purpose was to teach and hold up others. He belonged to the earth, and that was his position. He loved the Earth Mother and was part of her. He had visions, knew his destiny. His time on the earth plane was to bring people together and build bridges. He was teaching the ways of the elders to the people from the four corners of the earth. He was an interesting man, humble yet glowing with a powerful inner presence. Strong, he possessed this strength, this self-belief. When he spoke, it was in short abbreviated sentences. As if each sentence made one point. 

This is what he told me. “The Red Road is a spiritual path; it’s a journey. It’s all about the journey and has no end. It is a way of living, a way of being. You, he said, heard the calling. You found the gathering because you followed the Red Road. The road is inside you. It’s your spiritual compass. The purpose of that compass is to lead, and it led you here. Here you will make a connection, and then you take that connection across the water when you go home. That crossing, that connection allows others to follow. Some cannot make that connection on their own. They need to follow the connection that you make, like a string or cord it will lead them. Every time you cross water, you will make a connection. These connections are like the web of the spider or a prayer string. You are a weaver, a weaver of prayer strings and pathways. You will weave. That time will come.”

The wind blew, the smell of the fire, the resin burning, evoked powerful emotions within me. I could see thin shiny strings stretching out across the ancient forest. Across the sea, the sky and up into the heavens. I could see my cord, my own string, woven into this web…… 

Visions faded away.

He told me I didn’t need to stay for the sweat. That the connection to the land and the great spirit had been made, and if I chose, I could leave.  A snake slithered out from behind the tree. It coiled around the trunk and began to climb. I stepped back. “Don’t concern yourself? “ he said. “The snake is powerful medicine. He spends his time on the earth and therefore is closer to the great creator. He has the ear of God. He is one of your totem animals and only here to get your attention. Look, he is gone” 

It felt enormously emotional. I thanked the elder for my message and left him smoking by his tree. 

The women were still making red prayer ties and the men were taking the heated rocks into the lodge. Things were happening and there was an excitement felt. From behind the sweat lodge the elder appeared and everyone surged toward him. He entered the lodge and some of the gathering followed him in. 

The women by the fire were laughing and happy. I asked them who was the old man, the elder who had entered the sweat lodge. They said, “that is Wallace Black Elk.”