The Riddle of The Sphinx
by Gary Chansler (Quiverdart)
The Sphinx is said to have guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and travelers had to solve her riddle before they were allowed to pass. Ares sent the Sphinx from her Ethiopian homeland to Thebes in Greece where she asked all passersby the most famous riddle in history: "Which creature in the morning goes on four legs, at mid-day on two, and in the evening upon three, and the more legs it has, the weaker it be?"
She strangled and devoured anyone unable to answer.
Oedipus solved her riddle by answering:
Man - who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age. Bested by Oedipus, in shame the Sphinx then threw herself from her high rock and died.
I have to use a cane to walk these days. Not being at all satisfied with a metal or wooden "store bought" cane, I made my own. On my Dads side, I have Irish and Cherokee people, on my Moms side I have Prussian and Sioux people. I made my cane with attention to my heritage. Now,the Irish, bless their hearts, have used walking sticks and canes as weapons for many years. They are usually made from Blackthorn and hardened in a chimney for strength. These Irish walking/fighting sticks are called a "Shillelaugh" - pronounced Shuh-lay-lee. There is a tradition of Irish Shillelaghs that goes back for hundreds of years.
The Indigenous tribes of North America also have a tradition of "fighting sticks". They were formerly called "Coup Sticks". The idea was to strike your enemy, not to really injure or kill, but to SHAME him. The one doing the hitting gained prestige, the one struck lost face. Later on the Coup Stick was replaced by the true War Club, since the White man was intent on killing rather than simply gaining prestige. At any rate my cane is a mixture of my Irish and Indigenous heritages, so I have mixed two terms - Commanche and Shillelagh - and called it my "Commanchellelagh"--pronounced "Co-manch-uh-lay-lee".
I may be the proud owner of the only one in existance...
I chose a twisted Red Oak stick, grown right here in Tennessee. It is well seasoned and really hard. It has five complete twists to it, from where vines wrapped around it when it was a smaller sapling. It was twisted by one main vine, and a secondary vine as well. It has very pronounced and interesting twisted bulges because of the vines. Firstly, I removed the bark on the bulges, leaving a track of it about a half an inch wide on each side of the vines. I smoothed the cane with a sheet of Scotchbrite for several days. It is REALLY smooth.I fashioned a handle from the same piece of Oak and fit it on carefully, glueing it with JB Weld. (It will never come loose.) I also wrapped the handle with synthetic Sinew, mostly for the comfortable grip it gives. I have placed a glass "Eagle Eye" in the front of the handle to watch my trail ahead as I walk.
The spirals made by the vines start at the bottom of my cane and spiral upward in a clockwise direction. The last six inches before the handle has no spirals, so I added bead work the whole way. The beads have the same colors as the wood and bark of my cane... a little black edging, rusty red, orange, yellows and a little white. The bead pattern also spirals upward in a clockwise direction, continuing on in the same fashion as the wood.
I have added decorations to each of the five bulges on the cane, and also on the back of the handle. These decorations are made from brass tacks of three different sizes and small copper head pins. The designs are from about a half an inch to an inch in size. They consist of one main theme, expressed in two ways. The theme being "The Four", which was somewhat of a sacred number to indigenous peoples. It represents the four directions, the four seasons, the four elements, the four races of man and the four main aspects of being a Sovereign Human Being. I have four diamond shapes of brass and copper, and two circles of brass and copper. They each have a center, designating that we, as Human Beings, are at our best when centered in our places in the World. Two of the diamonds have a center with four artifacts pointing to the four directions. The two circles themselves are a representation of The Medicine Wheel... The Wheel of Life. A storehouse of ancient knowledge.
About my "decorations":
My designs I have on my cane are applied in PAIRS. TWO of each type. I have TWO diamond shapes with a center and four artifacts. I have TWO diamond shapes consisting of the thirteen artifacts. I have TWO Medicine Wheels.
This is intentional to acknowledge the TWO sides of being a Human Being. The DUALITY of man. We have the choice you see... we can walk in the LIGHT or we can walk in the DARK. The White Wolf or the Black Wolf , which will it be?The White Wolf represents all that is good in life, the Black Wolf represents all that is bad. We each, as a Sovereign Human Being have both options struggling inside of us. ALL of us. If the White Wolf wins, we walk in Light. If the Black Wolf wins, we walk the Dark Path.
Which Wolf will win? Why, that is simple. The STRONGEST Wolf wins...always.
Which Wolf is the strongest? That is simple as well... the strongest
Wolf is.. THE ONE YOU CHOOSE TO FEED.
LIGHT or DARK.... White Wolf or Black Wolf... it is up to you.
The DUALITY of man.
Two of my diamonds and one of my Medicine wheels are composed of THIRTEEN artifacts. The thirteen is in acknowledgement of the Lunar Calender that was used for many thousands of years. A Lunar year consists of 13 months of 28 days each. ( It makes much more sense than the crappy Solar Julian Calender used these days....) The Medicine Wheel on the back of the handle of my cane has a CENTER (that being ME) surrounded by 28 artifacts, in acknowledgement of the 28 days in each of the 13 months of a Lunar Year. The Medicine Wheel is there to show a bit of the ancient wisdom that has been swept under the rug by modern education.
A circle divided into four pieces, like a sliced pie. A CIRCLE to point out that all is connected. A CENTER in the circle to represent US. As individuals, as a family, as a tribe, as a state, as a country, as a World. US. We live in the CENTER, when all is well. The four represents the FOUR directions-- East, West, North, and South. It represents the FOUR winds that blow in those direction. It represents the FOUR seasons -- WInter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.It represents the FOUR races of Man-- White, Black, Yellow and Red. It represents the FOUR elements -- Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. (Each of the races was given an Element to be thier own.) The Red race got the Earth, and became one with Nature. The Yellow race got Water, and became the best at sailing the Oceans, the Balck race got the Wind and became one with the air, the White race got FIRE. Everyone knows how the Red race lived in harmony with the natural World. No doubt about that one. The Yellow races element was Water... not as much known about that, as History is blurred and very "selective" much of the time. The Chinese circumnavigated the World 5,000 years ago, though it is not spoken of in most circles. The Polynesians were so attuned to the Water that you could take one out to the middle of the Ocean and set him in a Canoe. He could just feel the action of the waves, touch the water with his palm and then tell you where the nearest land was, even if it was just a small island 50 miles away. They UNDERSTOOD their element, all right. Now, the Black race being given WIND as their element is even more obscured. I do know that there are 12,000 year old carved reliefs from Ancient Sumer depicting men with wings.There is no COLOR to the reliefs, but the men have curley hair, curley beards and wide noses. It is certainly depictions of the Black race. I also know that Black men today can run like the WIND, and also, just to make the point, many people feel that Michael Jordon was the best Basketball player who ever lived. His nickname was AIR Jordan. A coincidence? I do not think so. The White race was given FIRE.The White race misused their element to subjugate the other races. Think about your car you drive .. It has an internal COMBUSTION engine. What comes out of the tail of the Space Shuttle ? Unfortunately, fire also comes out of the tail of Tomahawk Missiles. What does the millitary squad say when the march you out to execute you? Not Ready-Aim-Water........it is FIRE. What drove the steam engines across the West as the Whites stole the land from the Indigenous Peoples who were already there? Yeah... it was STEAM, but it was FIRE that made that steam. I could go on and on, but it is pointless after a while.
The Medicine Wheel on my cane also represents the FOUR main aspects of being a good, functioning sovereign HUMAN BEING. We are at the center of the wheel, with the FOUR aspects surrounding us, each connected to the other, all connected to us. It is about balance. All about balance. The first aspect is the SPIRITUAL, the second is the PHYSICAL, the third aspect is the MENTAL and the fourth aspect is the EMOTIONAL. These four all effect the other, they all effect us, there in the center. It is about BALANCE. If there is a problem with the Physical, then it throws things askew. The same is true of the Spiritual, Mental, or Emotional. We must stive for balance. We can do so by UNDERSTANDING and by knowing who we are and where we are, and by staying calm in the center of the storm of life.
Peace. Be still.
However, there is a problem with that plan these days. The problem being that we, as Human Beings, have been tricked. We have been fooled. We have been tricked into giving up our SOVEREIGNTY over our four aspects. We have given up sovereignty of our SPIRITUAL aspect to preachers, priests, rabbis, the pope or whoever. We are no longer in charge of our Spirituality...they are. We have given up sovereignty of our PHYSICAL aspect to Doctors and pharmaceutical drugs. We are no longer in charge... they are. We have given up sovereignty of our MENTAL aspect to Psychiatrysts and pharmaceutical drugs. We are no longer in charge, they are. We have given up sovereignty of our EMOTIONAL aspect (our HAPPYNESS) to other people and other things. We think we need our friends to make us happy. We think we need Alcohol to make us happy, or drugs. Even worse, we think we need things like FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM to make us happy.( How many LIKES did you get on INSTAGRAM today??) So we are no longer in charge of our own lives. We are no longer CENTERED in the Medicine Wheel. In fact, it is so bad in many cases, we are no longer even IN the Wheel. We drift around aimlessly, on the outside, like ghosts. I used to hear people speak of this years ago, and I did not understand. Now I do. You have heard it as well. Someone will say something like: " I have a big meeting today.. I need a little time alone to get CENTERED". Or someone will say: " I am going to take some time off to go FIND MYSELF...". See? They are speaking of The Medicine wheel without realizing it. Deep down the know something is amiss, but they have not been given the information they need to deal with it as it should be done.
This is my cane... a small twisted stick representing a wealth of indigenous knowledge, many, many years old.
© Quiverdart April, 2016
Return to Native American Articles.