The Creeks and Their Dances (8)
By Ghost Dancer
Most people associate the Eagle Dance style with other tribes, mostly those from the western states or plains peoples. I would like to talk about the Southeastern tribes and their relationship to the eagle and what the eagle is renowned for. To Southeastern Native peoples, the eagle is the leader of all bird people, just as rattlesnake is the leader of the snake people. Eagles are warriors, hunters, fishers, parents and lovers, all characteristics we want to bring into ourselves.
The eagle is one of just a few who mate for life. If something happens to one of the pair, the other’s heart is broken and it will never be with another. The eagle is swift to justice and defends its territory, its home and family with its life. The eagle is our messenger to our Creator and offers its prayers along with our prayers. The eagle watches over all below and represents the eyes of truth and honor. So now knowing these things you will understand that the Eagle Dance symbolizes these things.
Please remember, we Southeastern tribes did not wear eagle feathers in our hair, nor did we wear war bonnets or such made from eagle feathers. That custom belongs to the cultures of other Native Peoples. Yes, we had eagle feathers; these were used as awards for deeds of honor, respect, sacrifice, and accomplishments. These feathers would be placed on coup sticks, walking or sacred staffs or used in ceremonies and as fans.
For the Eagle Dance, dancers cover their arms with eagle feathers and wear eagle-feather head dresses. Their legs have the down feathers lightly covering them and their ankles have the fluffs. An eagle-bone whistle made from the wing bone is tied around the neck by a leather thong and the whistle will be kept in the dancer’s mouth. Some dancer’s will have golden eagle feathers, some will have the spotted eagle or immature eagle feather, and some will have feathers from the mature bald eagle. Some will wear eagle feathers dyed red, representing the sun eagle which looks like the eagle is bleeding. Some will wear black eagle feathers, representing the very young. This array of colorful eagles all blending together is a sight to see.
The Eagle Dance begins when a clan mother of the Bird Clan stands and blows the eagle bone whistle once. The dancers, both male and female, squat like an eagle sitting. The clan mother blows the bone whistle again to sound like a mother eagle calling and the eagle dancers all spread out their arms, flapping their wings. She blows a third time and the dancers all rise while flapping their wings. She blows a fourth time and the dancers leap in the air and begin dancing to the fast beat of the drum, flapping their wings as they mimic taking off in flight. Now the dancers all blow their eagle whistles, sounding like screaming eagles. Then they began soaring as they gather in rhythm and begin forming into couples. Yes, these eagles are now flying together, moving as one, and their dance moves mirror one another.
The drum slows and the eagles slow down. The drum becomes quieter and softer and in perfect rhythm the eagles slow their movements as the clan mother blows her eagle bone whistle and all eagles come down and land, flapping their wings and settling themselves in. They begin rubbing their faces together and lay their heads on the other’s shoulder, symbolizing their love and commitment to each other. Using their head dresses, which include a, beak they begin grooming one other. The clan mother blows her eagle wing bone whistle and the cycle begins all over again. this dance lasts for as long as the clan mother chooses. Hope this clarifies the differences in our traditional eagle dance and those of other peoples.
Now there is a second Eagle Dance that is done for asking or calling the eagle spirit to come and help. This dance is very spiritual; a religious ceremony, asking for the prayers to be taken up by the eagle spirit.
The dancers wear all the feathers and head dress as before and have the eagle bone whistles but is not done before the whole town. Rather, it is done in a ceremonial place and is conducted by a spiritual teacher of the bird clan, who more than probably is an eagle spirited person as well. I prefer teaching in person on sacred matters and ceremonies, so this is all I will say about this.
Ghost Dancer July 2017 ©