Muscogee Creek Wisdom: Always Remember to Wash Your Neck
I never set out to be an author. It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to continue to help share Bear Heart’s messages for humanity. Over the years I’ve received so many notes from people who report how his words that reflect basic Creek values changed their lives. This story is but one of so many of my own, and it involves Bear Heart and Tony Hill, a most-respected spiritual leader and Muscogee Creek elder.
ONE TIME Bear Heart, myself and a group were to have dinner with Tony. We arrived at his modest home in Okmulgee, Oklahoma where he lived with his daughter and several grandchildren.
After a memorable dinner and while Bear Heart visited with everyone, I went outside to share some of my art supplies with Tony Hill’s grandchildren. I was having such a good time with the talented natural artists ranging from 4 to 15 years old.
My heart was so open and happy to bask in the energy field of these young, Indigenous natural artists. When their mother appeared to check on her children, I had an experience of what I describe as a “blissful spontaneous extra-ordinary generous moment.” I took off a very special necklace made of Minnesota pipestone and turquoise from my neck and put it on the children’s mother. She graciously accepted it without a word.
Back inside the home, she began showing everyone the newly gifted piece of jewelry. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, so I was taken back at the tone the father used to speak in their Creek language with his grown daughter, the mother to whom I had gifted the necklace.
I whispered in Bear Heart’s ear, “Why is he angry at her?” Bear Heart whispered back, “He isn’t angry, he is reminding her that she “still has to wash her neck!” Later, I learned that a principle within their culture taught that when someone gives you something of value, of beauty, an acknowledgment, don’t get yourself feeling so “uppity.” You don’t start thinking that you did something so wonderful that you are now a very special person, higher than others.
The power of this lesson has stayed with me for many years now. Being brought up in a society that values material wealth as a measurement of self-esteem, I felt a deep sense of relief to experience a people who value each other separate from their possessions.
Every time someone thinks I, Reginah WaterSpirit, have done such a great thing to dedicate myself to supporting Bear Heart’s work, I hear Tony Hill admonishing his daughter. I still have to take care of the mundane things in my world. I still have to say “Thank You” to the force in nature that brings both challenges and blessings. I still have to wash my neck! I am one of all living beings on this Earth; not lower or higher than another.
Until next time, I am Reginah WaterSpirit, medicine helper to Muscogee Creek Caretaker of Certain Sacred Ways, Marcellus Bear Heart Williams.
Bear Heart (1918 - 2008), was a Muscogee Creek Native American Church Road Man with a talent for seeing people as individuals, and for making them feel seen and special in their own ways. The Bear Is My Father: Indigenous Wisdom of a Muscogee Creek Caretaker of Sacred Ways contains the final words Bear Heart wrote before his “going on” as well as contributions from friends and family whose lives were forever changed by Bear Heart’s presence and work. In this new book, Bear Heart uses stories of his youth and traditional medicine practices to convey lessons and knowledge about living in harmony and with respect for all.
Offering a mix of history and spiritual wisdom, The Bear is My Father is co-authored by Reginah WaterSpirit, Bear Heart's Medicine Helper and wife of 23 years.
When Reginah would ask Bear Heart exactly how he made his medicine, he always answered, “I don’t make the medicine, it was here before me. I’ve been entrusted to be a caretaker of certain sacred ways.”