FireKeepers "AniWodi" Keepers of the Sacred Flame; Keepers of Ancestral Spirituality & Culture ALIVE
Keeper of the Sacred Flame #Firekeeper Ravenredtailhawk Jaguarxi Tips: A Sacred New Fire Spring is Here, Stomp Dances #Fire was and is sacred to the Cherokee, and is a living memorial. It has been with the people from the beginning of time. Fire is a gift of the Great Spirit, it separates men from animals. It makes civilization possible. Fire can only be lit by a priest, typically a member of the Ani-Wodi clan (priests, keepers of the flame). The fire is traditionally made of Oak wood. If the fire is not made of Oak, or is not lit by a priest, only bad luck can follow. Once the kindling is placed, the priest lights a twig and offers the smoke to the North, East, South, West, Upward to the heavens, Downward to the Mother Earth, and Inward to the center (self) for purity. It is built at the bottom of a pit below the ground, and burns constantly. It is believed by traditional Cherokees that soon after creation of the Cherokee people, the Creator left his throne in Heaven and visited the Earth. He chose four Cherokee men who were strong, healthy, good and true, and believed with all of their heart in the Creator. They were each given a name: Red, Blue, Black and Yellow. Each was given a wooden stick that was very straight, and was told to place one end of the stick on a surface that would not burn. He said to place the other end in their hands, and start this material that would not burn to magically burn. . . by giving the sticks a circular, rotating motion.
When this was done, and all the sticks were burning, they were told to go to the center of the cross, and there the four would start one singular fire. This fire would burn for all time, and be the Sacred Fire. The fire was started with the instructions and help of the Creator, and is maintained by the Ani-Wodi. The Sacred Fire has been held since that time by the Cherokee, and is kept alive by the Chief, Assistant Chief, Firekeeper, and Assistant Firekeepers of the Ground.
A firekeeper (Ani -Wodi) and his assistant begins early dawn starting the official sacred fire. He begins with small slivers of wood, inner most part of an oak tree called the sponge, flint and some rock to trigger a spark. A medicine fire is also built where a small piece of meat is then thrown in and pipes are lit from the fire and a prayer follows. The firekeeper does his job so well that he doesn't have to come back until later in the day.
Sunrise: The men sit around talking about political issues and the women prepare a meal for the day which consists of traditional and modern food.
Later in the afternoon: Sermons are held in the Cherokee language. The sermon includes telling all to love all mankind.
After the sermon, a stickball game (A-ne-jo-di) is played--an ancient Cherokee tradition that resembles the American lacrosse.
At sundown, the sermons continue. The Chief brings out the traditional pipe, and fills it with tobacco. He lights it with a coal from the Sacred Fire, and takes seven puffs, to commemorate the seven sacred directions, and passes it to his neighbor. Then there is a meeting of Chief and tribal elders that call for the Stomp Dance to begin. The first dance is by invitation, tribal elders, elders, medicine men and clan heads.
The members gather to visit, feast and dance far into the night. Stomp Dance participants include a leader, assistants and one or more "shell-shaker girls" who wear leg rattles traditionally made out of turtle shells filled with pebbles. The ceremonial observance involves sacrificing meat to the sacred fire at the center of the grounds, taking medicine and going to water or river for ritual cleansing. The shakers provide rhythmic accompaniment while dancing around the fire, and a dance cannot begin without the shakers. The Stomp is a traditional dance that follows a strict order of preparation and execution.
The earliest record of Stomp Grounds takes us back to the Mounding, or Mississippian Period. During this period, one of the mounds was used as a ceremonial gathering place. When the people ceased to use the mounds for ceremonial purposes, they brought the square shaped ceremonial grounds with them. The dance grounds are carefully prepared, a large flat area, traditionally sunken, with seating arranged on all 4 sides. Around the Stomp Grounds are arranged seven arbors, one for each clan; Wolf (a-ni-wa-ya), Wild Potato (a-ni-go-ta-ge-wi) also known as the Bear Clan, Paint (a-ni-wo-di), Bird Clan (a-ni-tsi-ss-gwa), Long Hair (a-ni-gi-lo-hi) also known as Twister or Wind then the Blind Savannah as known as Blue (a-ni-sa-ho-ni). The members of each clan are related through their mothers.
The people prepare themselves with cleansing rituals, ‘going to water’ and taking traditional medicines to purify the body and spirit. This is a rededication to their way of life, Cherokee society, their clan, and the Great Spirit.
The first round is from a selected group of people, the men start to sing, and the call is given for the women wearing the hells to enter the square, the song leader dances in front, followed by the lead shaker, who wears leg-rattles, some made of shells, some made of small turtle shells filled with stones. Behind them come the rest of the singers and shakers, these followed by everyone else. The dance goes around the Fire in a counterclockwise direction, with the heart and left hand toward the sacred fire, everyone following in the steps of the person in front of them, forming a spiral.
This is a slow shuffling stomp of the feet, one after the other. Stomp right, stomp left, stomp right, stomp left. The sight and the sound reaches down deep into your soul and stirs something, both ancient and timeless. They dance until they are tired and rejoin the dance when they are rested.
A series of wampum belts serve to record and ‘read’ the traditional beliefs and stories. The belts are very old, and are made of wampum beads sewn together with a form of seaweed from old Mexico. The wampum belts are shown only on very sacred occasions. The history of the belts relate that many years ago, the tribe was preparing to go to war. The medicine men foresaw which would survive, and cut the original wampum belt into seven pieces. After the war, the belts were scattered, and the last one was recovered by Redbird Smith in the very early 1900’s.