Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Animal Allies: Buffalo Brother

Bison bison, photo by Jack Dykinga
A few years ago, our local zoo was host to a pair of male bison. I had never seen one in person, but I had dreamt of them thundering across the plains. I had dreamt of running with them in buffalo skin and walking among them with human feet. At difficult periods in my life, I called on their strength to aid me in putting one foot ahead of the other, to keep moving forward no matter what was coming at me.
I could not resist the opportunity to observe them in the waking world. I went to the zoo every week, sitting outside their pen. I told them stories about their European ancestors, the ancient aurochs. I thanked them for the generations of bison who have been feeding and sheltering humanity. I told them about the bison cave drawings in Altamira, Spain that date to 12,000 BC. I told them about the drawings in the Niaux Cave of France. Mostly I sat in silence, trying to become part of their landscape, not a mere tourist.
Altamita, Spain circa 12,000 BC
You could feel their strength, and see intelligence in their dark eyes, with their beautiful lashes. When the older male looked at me, it was not with a dull gaze. He was observing as much as I was. Despite their girth, there is a grace in the way they graze the grasses. The older male began to greet me at the fence when I arrived. When I went with my visiting mother, we were in the adjacent goat pen. I turned around to find my bison friend’s face inches from mine, where he had stuck it through a hole.

Bison in the Wild
Bison are even-toed ungulates, which are animals that hold their body weight on the tips of their toes while in motion. They are usually hooved. Others among the diverse group of ungulate mammals are the rhinoceros, zebra, camel, alpaca, warthog, pig, hippopotamus, giraffe, deer, elk, moose, caribou, reindeer, gazelle, antelope, yak, auroch, sheep, goat, oryx, and musk ox.
The bison and the buffalo are both animals of the Bovidae family, but the bison is of the genus Bison, while the buffalo is of the genus Syncerus. They are related, but they are not the same creature. Their genes diverged 5 to 10 million years ago. Still, as we called them buffalo before their genus was determined, it is acceptable to refer to them by either name. There are two living species, the American bison, composed of plains bison and wood bison, as well as the European bison. There were four other known bison species that are now extinct.
Bison are the largest terrestrial animals in North America, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. The nomadic grazers travel in a large herd during the reproductive season from June to September. Otherwise, the females travel in their own herd with the young, including males under three years of age. The adult males travel together in a smaller herd; a bull seldom travels alone.
Both the male and female bison have horns, and are good swimmers, crossing rivers over a half-mile wide. Bison enjoy wallowing in small shallows of dirt or mud. They can appear peaceful and unconcerned, but they are unpredictable in temperament. Without warning they might launch into an attack. They can cover large distances at a gallop of up to 35 mph. Bison are most dangerous during mating season, when the older bulls rejoin the herd, hormones are high, and fights occur.
When there is outside danger, the female bison circle up around the young, old, and infirm. The bulls take position on the outside. When danger strikes, they come together to protect each other. The only known predators of the bison are the grey wolf, brown and grizzly bear, coyote, and human.

Buffalo Brother
My friend, saying hello.
I used to have anger issues. I began the Buddhist work of Lovingkindness as a means of reshaping that part of me, embracing gratitude, mindfulness, and compassion. I began to dream of Buffalo Brother, who gave me two options. I could snort and engage him in combat, or I could let my anger dissolve into the earth beneath me and graze quietly with him in the grasses. In our world, bison are humble and quiet and content to roam the wilds, but when provoked, they become giant, lumbering, movable mountains. I took this lesson to heart and adopted him as a guide. I connect buffalo to both my root and my heart chakra.
In many traditions, the bison is a symbol of gratitude. It represents the sacredness of life, the relation of all things, and the relation of all those things with the Earth beneath us. It is about honoring all living things, being humble enough to ask for help, and grateful for whatever help is given and offered. I’m going to repeat that: grateful for whatever help is given. That’s the point, right? If you ask for help and then are picky about what is offered, that is not gratitude. In that respect, buffalo medicine is also about prayer.
Bison turn their faces into approaching storms, standing firmly against them. Buffalo stands proud against the winds of adversity. Those called to this medicine should remember to temper themselves in dealings with others and allow tranquility and peace to enter their lives. Strive to see the positive side of all things.
Buffalo is about abundance. It’s about seeing that you have everything you need at your disposal. You do. But sometimes you have to dig into uncomfortable places to get to it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because it’s not what you want, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Being grateful for what you have is true prosperity. Stop focusing on what you don’t have and focus on what you do. Keep a daily gratitude list. This practice will change the way your brain thinks, and you will start to see all the good in the world. It will change you from the inside, and you will find that you no longer need to worry about storing your frustrations inside, because buffalo teaches us to release them into the earth.

The Legend of the White Buffalo
The relationship between the Native People and the buffalo was beautiful. They killed what they needed, offering prayers of gratitude to the Great Spirit before the hunt, and having ceremonies honoring the life of the buffalo afterwards. The meat would feed the tribe. The skins and hides were used to make clothing and shelter. Even the hooves were ground down to make glue. Buffalo gifted the People life by sacrificing his own. Many hunters wore protective amulets made of buffalo bone.
Many Native tribes have legends of White Buffalo Woman, who came to the People and taught them how all things were connected. She brought them the sacred pipe and taught them medicine rituals. She promised to return to them in an era of Peace, and since then the birth of a rare white buffalo has been an omen of promise and hope, marking an end to suffering.

Pida miya, Tatanka.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.