Native American Dolls

Swan Blessing Story - Spirit Doll of the Sacred Artist

Lakota Doll by Rhonda Holy Bear

Tonight I share Katy's Swan Blessing story of a past life remembered as a young Native American girl carrying the wisdom of the sacred artist. When faced with the loss of her tribal lands, she made a Vow to Never Submit to the materialistic ways of the modern world. In this lifetime Katy is an artist again and to carry such a binding from the past into this new time was creating many obstacles. Many of us are carrying vows and laws that still forbid us from creating wealth in our present lifetimes and the reasons for these promises were very valid for the times they were made in but do not serve us now. For Katy it was the release of this vow that gave her understanding that she now had permission to create wealth in her life without guilt.  When we imbue our work with sacred energy, which is simply love and intention with the action of making the art itself,  our creations have great worth in our world. In fact, it is very needed at this time. As artisans we must see our craft as a worthy channel for abundance - just as needed as any other role or service. To create with the intention of healing and service and then to charge accordingly for this work is something that is important for us to learn. At the same time we can be discerning and make sure that our work is not being abused, disrespected or copied. We do not need to sell our services to everyone but we can choose who we wish to worth with and for. To accept our own ability to create sacred art again is important because it helps us to also open our minds and hearts to the sacred art of indigenous artists and give it the great honour it deserves. Our sacred art is not a commodity but a gift that creates a circle of abundance that includes the recipient as well as the artist. We can make our whole life a practice of sacred art.

When I met Katy I felt such a bond of sisterhood with her instantly but I had no idea of the way her story was going to ripple out and flow through my own life and through the lives of the women who have also heard her story. When I retold Katy's Swan Story at a recent workshop it was not shocking to them to hear of a woman who intended to burn a town down for taking away her tribal lands, but a cry moved through the crowd as I told of her spirit doll being thrown onto the fire. As I heard and felt the unrest of the women I realised we all still carried a strong collective memory of carrying our magic in dolls. And that these dolls were not merely toys but living sacred objects, more like little sisters or guardians. I began to remember lifetimes of making Medicine Dolls, Witch Dolls, and Spirit Dolls and how sacred they were to us women in times when we were connected to our ancestral medicine and wise ways.

Amazingly, I had chosen the image of this beautiful and proud doll you see above created by Rhonda Holy Bear because I could feel the sacred essence that it carried and it reminded me of Katy's Vow. Only tonight did I read the story of how Rhonda came to her artisan craft of doll making. If you click on the image you will go to her website and read the story about how her grandmother's spirit doll was given away to wealthy tourists - yet another echo of Katy's story rippling and awakening us to the need to learn to honour sacred craft and indigenous art and a call to us to learn to create our own sacred art and spirit dolls again.

"I didn't know what to expect from the Swan Blessing. I just had a very clear and direct inner impulse to participate. I have funny problems understanding basic societal constructs like money, so the "vow of poverty" idea really rang a bell for me. I fully expected to see in my past life (if I saw anything at all) a medieval nun, living quietly, disengaged from the world, expecting nothing, with nothing expected of her but simple labour and the contemplation of the divine. That's not quite how it worked out. It may be that the life I expected to see is there in my secret soul, but it's certainly not the one that sprang forth and demanded my attention.

A young Native American woman came forward and took my hand. She showed me the ashes of a campfire. In the fire were the remains of a simple handmade doll. The woman with me was now a little girl, and the doll had been made by her, and thrown into the fire by her brother (who was much older, and an important person in her tribe), to teach her a lesson. I felt her child's anger and confusion, and also her brother's deep, wild, implacable rage. As I looked around, I saw that her camp, the home of her people, had been burnt to the ground by white men on horses. There was ruin and destruction everywhere, and everything of value was ash. The lesson her raging brother was teaching her by throwing her doll in the fire is that their life as they knew it was finished, that there would be nothing spare for foolishness. 

The next thing I saw was the woman, no longer a child, but still young, lighting a fire.  

This part of the story unravelled backwards: She was lighting a fire. She was lighting a fire at the back of a building. Oh! She's setting the building on fire. The building is a pub, in a small, still-being-constructed mountain town. She's so angry. So fucking angry. Why is she so angry? They killed her brother. Who did? The same men. They caught him and killed him, shamefully, publicly, because they were trying to build this town, and he kept attacking them and disrupting their work. So. She sets the town on fire. It burns, and her fury burns, she is utterly consumed and immobile with rage. She is arrested and imprisoned for the rest of her brief time on earth. And the burning vow of her whole life is the rageful shriek that she will never, ever submit. 

She comes to me again, calm now, and shows me how I still carry this vow as big heavy rocks in my hands. Together we smash the rocks into pieces and they crumble away. She hands me her gift, and I see it's the little doll that her brother threw into the fire, now unburnt. It represents the power I have to make magical objects, and to make objects magical; to weave together disparate and inanimate things and breathe into them life and intelligence and meaning.  

* * * 

I'm an artist, and I've always had a very fraught relationship with money. It just doesn't make sense to me, particularly in relationship with art-making. When I make artwork, it's always something that can't really be  bought or sold. It's films, or crazy installations that fall apart if you touch them, or giant inflatable whatchamacallits; for me, their very purpose is to be not-of-this-world. If they fit neatly into somebody's everyday life then they're not doing their jobs as other-worldly triggers. They're sacred objects. They don't get turned into a commodity. But then, on the other hand,  when I try to figure out how to make money, it's ALWAYS some kind of making-something-that-is-most-emphatically-NOT-the-sacred-object kinda thing. And I always feel weird about it, and I'm really stingy with my attention. And it always feels unfocused and wrong, and it's always this big inner conflict, and it's always a struggle. And I sort of hate the thing I'm making. And the enterprise usually collapses and I'm secretly relieved. 

At the moment I make these embroidered patches and sell them in my shop, and to other shops. They're definitely NOT art, but people like them and they sell quite well. I've been having my usual funny struggles with it; weird panics at markets, the urge to sabotage the business. The weekend after the Swan Blessing, my husband and I hosted a big party in the forest, for about a hundred people. It started looking like it was going to be really big, and we didn't really know what to expect, and we were a bit nervous. We arrived a day early to set up, so in the morning before people were due to arrive, I put on the poncho I had made out of blankets, made a sign, and set out another blanket on the ground, put all my patches out on display, sat down and waited. 

I suddenly felt very, very, very weird. Like all of this was incredibly familiar. I have never in my whole life experienced Deja Vu until this moment. And then, just to drive the point home, somebody wandered past and said "Wow, you look exactly like an American Indian selling crafts by the side of the road!"  I couldn't even answer them, because everything was just thrumming and humming and glowing and feeling so weird. And it was just like it all fell into place. I know now why money is so uncomfortable for me, and why this is being triggered so hard at this point in my life. I think this conflict is HER conflict. Like, her inborn magic was to make sacred objects, but then her tribe's way of life got destroyed, and then, traumatised, she had to find new ways of living and fitting into the foreign currency structure that had been imposed on her, and her magic got degraded and and turned into crappy commodity-trinket-making. And that felt like submission, and that felt terrible and wrong. 


The animal companion that was given to me by Tony at the Swan Blessing was the chipmunk. At first this seemed a bit incongruous; this cheeky, busy, funny, lighthearted creature didn't seem to sit comfortably with this giant vision of rage and burning that I'd just experienced. But the next day a couple of things struck me: One, that this was a creature I used to see a lot in my childhood in Colorado. (My vision absolutely and unequivocally occurred in Colorado as well. Funny.) The other thing is that this is a creature who knows how to prepare for winter, but doesn't make a big deal about it, or agonise over it; it just goes about it's cheeky life, and trusts its own ability to take care of its own business... it just follows its instincts, stuffing nuts in its chubby cheeks all summer, and then has a big pile of nuts to sleep on through the winter. Maybe the feeling I keep having in my life, that I don't understand these basic laws about how the material world works, how to make and keep money, how to connect effort with reward, things that everybody else seems to intuitively understand and be able to work with, come from being tied to this past life of chaos and desperation and imprisonment. Maybe some of the fallout in this life has been my feeling like a foreigner when it comes to these basic self-determining and self-care strategies. So maybe it's not as complicated and mysterious as I think, and if I just channel that little stripy guy, the state of Usefulness and Plenty will just happen as a natural side effect of my instinctive life, rather rather than something I try to consciously build through the force of my will."   

Katy 2013

Thank you Katy for opening your heart and sharing your Swan Blessing story. By releasing her Vow to Never Submit, Katy has opened up a channel to abundance and understands that this channel will be of her own making. In this lifetime we are free to share our deepest and most sacred art again without fear and under our own authority. The gift of release teaches us that we are allowed to create and share in abundance and that possessions do not need to be void of sacred energy but instead can be beautiful vessels of magic and love - Art with Soul. With intention, belief and love we turn the mundane into the sacred. I am very excited to see the magical and sacred art that Katy creates now that she has released the bindings of that lifetime.

You can see some of the beautiful community building that Katy is involved in through her shop Desire Books in Manly, Sydney. Just have a look at the creative projects she offers to children, musicians, writers... If you are in Desire's neck of the woods pop in and enjoy!

Thank you Katy for opening up this sacred pathway to the Dreamer for myself and for many, many other women.