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Confluence Journal Call For Submissions: Winter 2017 – Liminal Spaces & Altered States

2017 has been a year rife with shifting landscapes of every kind both globally and internally. Our own community has seen its share of challenges. Some us have faced illness, some have been touched by death. Others faced (and face still) the fatigue that comes from living in a state of hypervigilance, permanently on guard for those who would seek to do them harm.

We so clearly live in what Charles Eisenstein, among others, call ‘a time of global initiation.’ The gendered tropes of Mother Earth and Father Time are collapsing into a singular and unifying cry to take up our role as stewards and accomplices with the land, water, air, and each other.

Being in the potential chrysalis of that call can be both exhilarating and terrifying. To be poised at a threshold while facing the realities of the world is a necessarily heart-rending process. Yet that process is the very embodiment of our work, forging a crucible for the grief and rage so they, and in turn, we, might transmute.

The myriad ways we deal with and intentionally enact those liminal spaces are as diverse as their outcomes, from our individual journeys or our collective rites and rituals to the ways our many cultures and civilizations adapt and evolve. One of the most prevalent components of that evolution embedded across cultures has been the heightened or ‘altered states that come from sacred interactions with plants and some animals often called ‘plant medicine’ or just medicine.

At a minimum, human beings have used forms of plant medicine for the last 10,000 years. They’ve been an instrumental part of forming identity and the initiatory experiences of indigenous communities throughout the world. Recent research has even opened up a dialogue about the extent to which those practices aided in the rapid expansion of our capacity for imagination and complex abstraction. Yet there are a great many pieces to the ways these practices have sustained or changed over time that are worth considering.

Just as important is the proliferation of chemical substances not associated with the sacred, their effects in general and on young people and communities at high risk for addiction and abuse in particular. The renewed interest in rites of passage and transformative experiences and the resulting trend of appropriation and erasure have only increased the complexity of this inquiry. So it felt right in this moment to take a look at a topic we’ve not yet broached in concerted ways.

This dual theme has many dimensions to explore ranging from the inherently embodied aspects of transitions and migrations to the more subtle mental and emotional shifts of spiritual and initiatory journeys. We invite your experiences be them sacred, profane or otherwise with liminal spaces and altered states in our own lives as well as in exploring the implications for contemporary (and traditional) rites of passage as a starting place to see what might be gleaned.

The deadline to submit is December 10th, 2017. We will value your work for its strength of character and for its contribution to the Issue’s exploration of the theme.  Please view the theme as you wish—creatively or destructively, literally or figuratively—and feel free to wander off wherever it may take you.

With gratitude,



Confluence Journal Editorial Team


  1. Takchah’sohn Mahkeecheemahsah, or “Pelt of a New Born Fawn,” which has made it into English as “Soft Hair” was the real McCoy, a true Medicine Man. He’s got the juice, or as they say in some circles – “mojo.”
    “Takchah’sohn Mahkeecheemahsah,” is an evocative word. In the old days a fawn’s pelt was the softest material Turtle Island Earth People could obtain. A newborn fawn has no aroma, and the spotted pelt blends perfectly with the surroundings of the season of its birth. A days-old fawn instinctively remains absolutely still. It doesn’t even twitch its ears or blink its eyes. If there is a predator in the vicinity, the doe will move and draw the predator off, secure that the fawn will be safe. A predator can come within yards of a fawn and not be aware it is there if the fawn does not move.
    Thus, the tribal words that translate as “Soft Hair” also signify ‘Invisible/Visible.’ It’s a medicine name. It embraces what is most unique about the man – that he can make the visible invisible and the invisible visible – and it encompasses what is universal about him – that his knowledge is for everyone.
    Soft Hair chops his own wood and carries his own water. He was born around 1930, went to war in Korea, got involved as a spiritual leader with the American Indian Movement, and attended to the injured during the stand-off with the FBI at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973. He is recognized as one of three trusted medicine men of his nation. He is descended from generations of medicine men. He has never done the lecture circuit, and only leaves home to lead healing ceremonies for urban Indians who can’t come to him.
    “This altar is not yours,” he said in reference to a Stone People’s Lodge I built. “You’re just the broom pusher here.”
    Two years after I met Soft Hair I had the arrogance to offer prayer ties and ask him if I could write a book about him, even though I had not been initiated into any of the mysteries of his or any tribe. Because I offered prayer ties, Soft Hair took my request into a Stone People’s Lodge and put my request before Spirit.
    “Go on the hill four days four times, once to each direction and you can write your own book,” Soft Hair said.
    And so, over the course of the next 30 years, I did that and more.
    On my first vision fast on a cold, windy bluff near the Badlands a cougar came up and sniffed me while I was huddling, eye closed, in a star blanket. That cat was real, not a Spirit. That cat startled me so much I freaking levitated flat out a good six inches off the ground. Lucky for me my fright scared the cougar away.
    Soft Hair never let me forget that. One time before another fast he said, “Remember, when you feel the hot breath of the cougar on your neck, pray harder.”
    Anyhow, in May 1988, at 9000 feet altitude on Wild Horse Mountain in Colorado during my second vision fast, I had my first awake vision.
    The first day was uneventful. I subsequently learned that was typical. Thunder Beings were all around during the second day, lightning in every direction and rain falling across the river way down the mountain below me. I knew Soft Hair was talking to the Thunder Beings down in the camp and asking them to keep the storm off me. By nightfall thick clouds came in and I only saw the moon a few times that night and it was one day from full. It was not cold that night because of the cloud cover, but that same cloud cover prevented me from seeing the morning star.
    One of Soft Hair’s requirements was to be awake for the rising of the Morning Star. On the third morning I did see Morning Star rising in the East, bringing the Dawn and the Sun, signaling the emergence of another circle of life, and to pray for this day as I would have it be, I chanted an English translation of an old morning star song.
    “Star, grandmother, bring forth Life; all night sleeping, now awakening; in the East give birth the Dawn / Earth, Mother, breathe and waken; leaves are stirring, all things moving; life renewing, new day rising / Sun, brother, carry the Dawn; carry the new mysterious Dawn, something marvelous and sacred; and it happens every day.”
    Suddenly, I was standing on a ridge at the Drop Edge of Yonder. On the Other Side were four Spirits sitting around a Fire. They had essence, life, immortal life, probably; but they had no materiality – they didn’t reflect the light, but rather seemed to be extensions of the radiating Fire.
    I floated down from the ridge and landed behind the Spirit in the East. The Fire had no noticeable heat and the light was like no light I have ever seen. I then floated around to the North side. The Spirit in the North turned just his head and looked at me. His mask was ancient, his skin sequoia, his eyes like winter’s night.
    “Don’t let the Fire go out,” he said telepathically.

    And just like that the vision was over. I was sitting in my circle. Daylight was just breaking.
    The morning after was dry and hot. It was the third day, usually the most discouraging day of a fast. I was at high altitude. To conserve energy I decided to meditate on the words, “Don’t let the Fire go out.” I thought the words could have two meanings: “keep the fire going,” or “keep it a secret.”
    I faced west and meditated probably all of six minutes before a woodpecker started drumming on a Ponderosa, hammering his head off. Then five more woodpeckers showed up and “set up a squawk,” so the old people say. They gunned on the wood, whistled, screeched, it was impossible. I couldn’t win for losing, so I dropped the idea of meditating. Instead I sang every old-people, prayer song that I knew.
    After maybe ten songs my throat became very dry, and I even started to hyperventilate a little. So I hugged the Ponderosa for some time, trying to cop some shade. The Sun, high in the south, was really beating down; the sky cloudless. It was hot out there. My hyperventilating got worse, I got dizzy, light-headed, wobbly even. There was no shade anywhere in the circle. I crawled to the middle and lay there holding the Canunpa – Prayer Pipe – and prayed really hard for health and help. I slipped into delirium for a bit, but there was no vision connected to that, and I worked on disassociating from the feelings of crazy, out of control, and sick.
    After some time passed, I felt a sensation of mist or sprinkle, but it was not rain. It was coming from the Ponderosa. There was a very light breeze moving the top branches, and it felt as though the tree was sprinkling me with moisture from its nettles.
    Then on the western horizon I saw clouds. I talked directly to the clouds, asked them to cover the Sun. Seemed like only maybe ten minutes and the clouds came closer and cut the bright heat of the afternoon sun off of me.
    I prayed for strength to endure. I ask Soft Hair out loud to send help, and almost simultaneously upon those words a hummingbird materialized practically in my face. Hummingbird seemed to have a worried look. He took a good look at me, chirped twice, did a split second one-eighty; in the next second was halfway down the rise and in another second out of sight.
    After that I lay on my back and prayed for rain, earnestly for about an hour, maybe, judging from the motion of the Sun behind the clouds. I could just barely mouth the words through my cracked lips and dry, hoarse mouth.
    Suddenly I was again in the reality of Wonder and saw, emerging from the sky the head — just the head — of a giant bird. It descended, only it expanded as much as descended, towards me. In no time it was directly overhead and very large and close. Its beak was aimed right at me. It had two ruby eyes that were glowing. I felt arrows of energy aimed at my heart. Then the beak simply entered my chest and the eyes entered my eyes. My whole body heaved, like it was jump-started, like bolt of electricity went through. The head folded into me as I gulped tanks of air

    … and it started to rain. Not much. I almost counted the drops. I tried to catch some of the drops in my mouth, but that was fruitless. But after a bit I noticed that water was standing in little pockets on the blanket. Patiently I built up a little reservoir and then sucked up the water. It was a minuscule amount, maybe a cup, but I gained so much strength from that tiny amount of water that I got up and walked around the circle. That’s when I noticed no rain had fallen anywhere except on the blanket. Everything else was still bone dry and the little dirt insects were still working their dry soil routine.
    So it was a little miracle. I thanked the clouds and the Thunder Being and the tree and the Eagle and the Earth and the Sky and the Fire of Life.
    At that a voice from within the Ponderosa told me a big wind was coming, was going to blow hard and get cold. Within minutes the wind arrived, flapping my Eagle feather and flags horizontally, madly, but they hung on for dear life, and the wind for all its hunger did not want to eat them. I stumbled over to the Pine and tried to hide from the spinning grit and dust.
    By dusk the wind died down. The work of the wind was to blow the cloud covering away. It’s effect, as the Sun set in the West and the full Moon rose in the East, was for me to experience a perfectly balanced moment.
    That night was spectacular. It was stars, the Milky Way, forever. I resolved to stay up all night to “see” Spirits by moonlight, and so of course I fell over and slept deep most of the night and dreamt not at all.
    Then again at the time of the morning star and while the moon hovered in the low western sky, an owl came from the North.
    “Who?” She asked.
    I sat bolt upright, wide awake, the question of the owl hitting my stomach like a fist.
    The owl flew from Whispering Ash in the North to Ponderosa in the West.
    The next “Who?” came from Douglas Fir in the South.
    “OK, show me my death. I’m ready,” I said to her.
    Suddenly in the South the Owl turned into the Old Woman, Fat Face. The neutral. The judge. She decides, when we die, if we go through the hole in the Sky to the Stars or return for renewal to the Master of Souls, the Earth Mother?’
    “Nyah Weh S’gano,” I said.
    “Who do you think you are?” she growled.
    “No body,” I answered
    She turned into a green egg. It was very big, as big as my body, suspended in air, as it were. She next became a black egg, but though the green was a shell, the black was an opening. In that opening there was nothing; there wasn’t even nothing. It was void – void of void – void of the conception of void. What it was I can’t describe and yet somehow there was an impending, brimming potential in that nothingness.
    I was laid out in some kind of rock tomb or cave, lying on a shelf of Stone. I had white hair. I looked dead. A voice told me I was there because of the heat. The black egg was just above me. My hand reached toward the black egg void. My hand was glowing. I saw the bones of my hand clearly, as though looking at an x-ray.
    Some strength pulled my body up. I looked into the void. And then I crossed over.
    Immediately, simultaneously I was standing in a great banquet hall, a paradise, with endless music and colorfull banners, laughter everywhere. Many relatives and all my ancestors were there full of merriment, dancing, abundant food, singing, and more music. It was like Carnival, like a medieval faire, like a great ceremony, like Mardi Gras.
    An archetypal clown appeared before me; a great clown, wise fool, Old Man Coyote Trickster figure; an emergent of the Drop Edge of Yonder.
    “Thank you for Being,” I thought.
    He responded the same. There were no words. Just telepathy. He was not me, but he was through me; that is, archetypes, like paradise, appear differently to different people.
    Trickster had a string of ‘buttons’ with faces on them, which he held in front of me.
    “What’s that?”
    “Your next life, pick one. You choose your next life.”
    I pointed to one that was about one third of the way from the trickster’s left.
    “That one. That trickster,” I said.
    Instantly I was back in my circle on Wild Horse Mountain standing facing the West, looking at a large stone in the moonlight. Large letters were etched into the stone. I could see them clearly and have never forgotten them. The letters were in order left to right TEIIS.
    I think, “The end is in sight.”
    Mid-morning of the fourth day: a large stick nest was suspended in the air in the East. In that nest was a long-necked, yellow bird, very young, but with its eyes open, poking its head above the sticks. I took it to mean I’d come back to life.

    That night in camp after my cleansing sweat Soft Hair interpreted, “The woodpeckers came and set up a squawk because, in your case, meditating is you just ‘thinking with your eyes closed.’ You had a spiritual experience. You experienced four grandfathers from the four directions. They gave you a responsibility: ‘Don’t let the Fire go out.’ That’s your responsibility! But you had to sit down and think about it. They told you what to do and then you went and tried to figure out why. So, they sent the woodpeckers. You’re lucky they didn’t land on your shoulder and knock on your skull! Then you had a Thunder come into you followed by being shown your death. Damn. Hot stuff. In our way that makes you a contrary but…”
    He laughed at the clown’s buttons. “That’s you. Your ally is a sacred clown. Just don’t let having a trickster ally allow your ego to lure you away from your real responsibility.
    “TEIIS? That’s from you. You put it on the Stone. ‘The end is in sight?’ You’re a storyteller; tell it to the Christians. They like that kid fiction. Don’t worry, this world may close, but end? Nah. Another always follows.”

    I have since “gone on the hill” or vision fasted, ten more times in a twenty-five year period – including the four times to the four directions. The directional fasts were spaced out over ten years. The other six times included a fast in each season. The seasonal fasts were of varying lengths, for instance the winter fast on the hill was only 24 hours long. The last time I went on the hill was in July 2014.
    During a fast I sit or stand within a circle of 405 prayer bundles and seven flags and other spirit-beckoning instruments: for instance grape vine, cedar, red willow, buffalo brush, mole dirt, an eagle feather. The diameter of the circle is less than the length of my body, so if I lie down it is in the fetal position. My instructions are to not go outside the circle except to relieve myself. The circle is in no way a comfort zone.
    I go without food and water for up to four days and nights. I break every habit; seek to stay awake as long as possible. It is a time of long pensive silence and ‘listening with one’s entire body’ to the flow of nature. It is a time to sit or stand in one sanctified space and learn to be still. But most importantly, it is a time to figure out the spiritual knowledge I need in order to be a “real human being.”
    Damn, it took me a while to grok that “real human being” thing.
    Soft Hair said, “The question every society should ask is, ‘what kind of human beings does it produce?’ Does it produce stupid violent ones? Does it produce people dutiful to laws that are cruel and destructive? Do we teach our youth to kill outsiders, because that word “outsider” or “other” makes killing virtuous? Those are not ‘real human beings.’”

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