Smoke Spirit Dancer

Smoke Spirit Dancer “And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” Black Elk My family first came to New Mexico in the first half of the 1950’s. I was about 6 years old. It was a dusty and very foreign place to a kid from Florida. I still have lots of memories of those days.

When I was in my 20’s and living in Albuquerque my mom gave me a gift. She had found an Apache spirit bag in one of the last authentic trading posts of Old Town Albuquerque. She said the shopkeeper insisted that it never be opened. He said that the pouch had been imbued with magical charms and herbs by a medicine man to bring protection and healing spirit to its possessor. While holding the bag the objects inside could be felt and I would try to imagine what my fingers were feeling.

There was definitely a sense of energy. It has a necklace of fine red coral heishi stands that are attached to the soft beige leather beaded pouch which has leather fringe and dangling shells. Now decades later it has never been opened to this day. On a wintry morning this year a piece of burning incense had been placed into the bottom of one of my pueblo pots. The spirit bag was lying near the pot. I began watching the daylight piercing though the smoke rising and twirling skyward.

The vapor took the shape of a mystical dancer, almost ghost like. I started thinking about the spirit bag and the legend relayed from the shopkeeper. I wanted to know more about the pouch and was inspired to research Spirit bags. While in that process I came across some Native American quotes which led to the one above by Black Elk.

His words resonated with me. No doubt the world of spirit and the unseen forces were a constant factor in his life. Black Elk was what was known by his Oglala Lakota Sioux people as a wičh ša wakȟ ŋ, a medicine holy man. Most likely it was someone like Black Elk who assembled the spirit pouch my mom had given me. The thought of seeing the unseen inspired the making of “Smoke Spirit Dancer” For several days I waited with my camera set up as the morning light would pass through the rising smoke.

After days of trying, I became partial to one image that was captured. The spiraling plume had taken a form that seemed to be a dancer. The vision in my mind now needed a night sky and a sliver moon. The quest for those began and finally all were gathered and assembled over the months ahead. So here is Smoke Spirit Dancer, an homage to the great unseen mystery and dance of life we are all in