Wednesday, June 2, 2010

earth turtle butoh

it's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren ask me in dreams
what did you do when the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the planet was unraveling?
... as the mammals, reptiles, birds, were all dying?

It has taken me six weeks to process and integrate a dance I did in Mexico while my beloved and I were there on vacation (prior to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster) . It has also taken me that long to muster the courage to share it as it was such a powerful experience for me and I do not want to desacralize what felt like such a spiritually potent experience for me... A previous blog explains the beginning of our journey and you can view the film and photos here: "Flocks and Feathers." Visiting this place in Mexico feels very sacred - it is a feeling that seeps from the land and it is also in the wind that wafts through the jungle foliage. It is a place where the veil between this world and Spirit is very thin.

We arrived in the evening and I wanted to wait until the light of day to greet Grandmother Ocean, which was accessed by a trail through the jungle. The next morning, as we stepped out of the trees and onto the sandy beach, we were surprised to see a flock of vultures perched on the rock outcroppings. The sight of these black winged-ones felt ominous as they so often represent death in our culture. As we approached, they stayed in place and let us walk through the flock of about a dozen of them. I remember saying that it was quite a threshold to be crossing over, past the sentinels of vultures on either side of us, the gatekeepers of the beach and the unknown mysteries ahead.

I had never been so close to these winged-ones before, and I was feeling anxious - were they aggressive? It took my breath away when I saw what was bringing them here to this spot - a dead giant sea turtle was amongst the boulders. It was such a shock to my being - not only because according to my medicine woman mentor's tradition, Turtle is the oldest symbol for our planet Earth and personifies Goddess energy and the universal, the eternal Mother from which our lives evolve, but also, because there was a thick red pool of blood that had poured from it's underbelly onto the sand.

I was seeing the bleeding from the Turtle Earth's belly as a symbol of the pain of Mama Earth - that she was injured from our mistreatment of her and was pouring blood from her wounds, from her belly.
Turtle was not the only sign of death on the beach as there were also several fish that were washed up on the sand. We had come to this isolated casita on this almost private beach to rest and connect with the harmonies of nature, and now, death was all around us...

I have done dances here at this location on other visits where I was drawn to do dance prayers for Grandmother Ocean (see the films and photos here: "Ocean Busera Butoh" and"Grandmother Ocean's Wrath Butoh") and I knew I had to do a dance to honor Earth Turtle, but I needed to spend time with the experience of being with her and the surrounding environs. Each day, Earth Turtle was being eaten by the vultures to the point that after a few days, only her shell and carcass remained. I was so amazed to witness the gentle, I might even say, polite, way the vultures approached their eating ritual - one vulture at a time while the others would sit and wait patiently, like sentinels, until the dining vulture moved away - then another would take it's place...

After the vultures had moved on, sand crabs took over until only the bones and the shell remained... After several days, I felt ready to dance this dance with Earth Turtle...

Before the dance I prayed to the four winds and set my intention that my dance would be an offering for the highest good of all beings - not only for this generation but all future generations... that it would be a dance of healing for Grandmother Ocean and Mama Earth...
Treading on the footprints of the vultures, I felt like I was entering a mythic journey...

When I began the improvisational dance, as I headed toward Earth Turtle, I picked up a large stone and held it's weight close as I lay on the boulders with the vultures, looking over Turtle. The stench was almost unbearable, and my beloved was actually filming with his head turned towards the sea (I was surprised he had me in the film at all) so as to not be overcome by the smell that enters your nose and throat and has a way of staying there so that with each inhalation you could also taste death for quite some time even when you are no longer in the vicinity of the dead...

I could feel the sadness of Earth Turtle and what felt like a struggle for survival... so much pain... as I was carrying the heavy rock, it felt like I was cradling Mother Earth herself, like a caretaker of sorts... My dance holding her by the sea felt empowering... until I was drawn to boulders that were stained by pelican excrement from thousands of birds that had been along this stretch of beach for the last 2 weeks - see my film and photos here: "Flocks and Feathers."
As I approached the ancient ones, the boulders or Stone People (representing the wisdom keepers of the Earth - the most ancient beings), it seemed to me, were profusely weeping. As the power of Grandmother Ocean crashed behind me, I succumbed to the pain of the Stone People and felt overwhelmed by grief as I hung over the rock as if my grief /tears were mingling with the tears of the Stone People, and then set the 'Earth boulder' I was carrying with this group of ancient ones as if for safekeeping...

This part of the dance also embodied another component for me as my sister was having a hysterectomy while we were here due to a diagnosis of fallopian tube cancer. The boulder I was carrying also felt symbolically like the womb, the womb my sister would be having removed - so it felt right to leave this symbol of her womb with the Stone People...

Without the weight of the boulder, I felt free to dance along the ocean's shore, where I felt so connected to the literal womb of the Earth, the waters, and was embodying the feeling of how we will all return one day to the place from where we began... Earth's womb...

The dead Turtle felt like such a powerful message of urgency - that our Mother is despearately needing us to stop our abuse of her... This dance was a prayer for our Earth and all the creatures we share it with... I was feeling so connected to the web of life in all it's manifestations and also the importance of our interconnectedness - how everything becomes everything else eventually...

"Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." Chief Seattle

A few days after the dance we shared a walk with a friend from Mexico - I wanted to show her the Earth Turtle, hoping she or someone she knows may want to receive the shell as a gift from Great Spirit. I felt dismayed by her words when she saw the turtle as she said it was worthless because it was so damaged... our Mother Earth 'unwanted' because she is so damaged... I was feeling so much the need, more than ever, to express and show the Earth how much we love her...
"There is only one question: how to love the world." Mary Oliver

This dance felt so multi-dimensional for me and it was such an honor to dance with Earth Turtle, the Vultures, the Stone People and Grandmother Ocean...

Today, as I write this, I was struck by what I am reading about the symbolism behind the precious beings I had danced with from the books of Jamie Sams and Ted Andrews ......

The turtle is more ancient than any other vertebrate animal and because of it's great age and slow metabolism represents longevity. In the Far East the shell was the symbol of the heavens and the underbelly was the symbol for earth. Ted Andrews writes that, "Turtles remind us that the way to heaven is through the earth. In Mother Earth is all we need. She will care for us, protect us, and nurture us, as long as we do the same for her. For that to happen we must slow down... we must see the connection to all things. Just as the turtle cannot separate itself from its shell, neither can we separate ourselves from what we do to the Earth."

I appreciate how vultures can soar for hours and are symbolic of flying without power or effort, that they use the power that is available from the air. They also represent purification and rebirth as they have the ability to eat that which has rotted due to special chemicals in their digestive tract that kill the bacteria, such as botulism... To some native cultures, they believe that Vulture medicine helps to restore balance and harmony.

Prince Buzzard

I knew it was hunger
that brought you --
yet you went about it

so slowly,
settling with hunched wings
and silent
as the grass itself...

it seemed
a ceremony,
a pause

as though something
in the quick of your own body
had come out
to give thanks

for the dark work
that was yours,
which wasn't to be done easily or quickly,
but thoroughly --

and indeed by the time summer
the field was nothing but flowers, flowers, flowers,
from shore to shore

Mary Oliver

Last month, when I saw the first image of the red-tinged oil hemorrhaging out into the sea from the ocean's floor, I was taken aback... right away I saw in my mind's eye the image of Earth Turtle on the beach in Mexico, bleeding profusely from her belly.

In retrospect, that the vultures in Mexico were eating Earth Turtle, but in the process were purifying that which had been polluted, feels very powerful to me and also very encouraging as we witness such horrific pollution in the form of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the recent disaster.

I am praying to the Great Mystery for the hemorrhaging of our Mother Earth into the Gulf of Mexico to subside so the healing of the ocean (and all the wildlife) can begin...
The blood red oil from the depths of Mother Earth in the Gulf... Photo: Justin Nobel

Thank you for viewing this blog - I hope it may inspire in some way... I always love to receive comments...

Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu

May all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering and may our thoughts and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom from suffering for all beings...
May we also remember we are within that circle of all beings...

If you double-click the photo below you will be able to watch the film without it being cut off on the right-side :~)
Music: Jennifer Berezan
Filmed by Brooke
View my butoh mentor's inspiring blog here: Maureen 'Momo' Freehill


  1. So beautiful, so very beautiful. I feel with the vultures,as if I'm feeding from what is left behind. Healing, grieving, mourning rituals are so important for us all if we are to survive as feeling beings. How else will be able to live with ourselves? Again, so beautiful, Lee. Thank you for inviting us into your experience.

  2. oh thank you.....go on and surprise yourself