|On Nine Eleven, why did a flock of
"birds" circle the burning Twin Towers? Were they Eagles of
Vigilance? Did they awaken in all of us the exigency to stand
Vigilant in the face of Terror? When the Zuni Indians
dance, do they remind us all that the past, present and future is one
Medicine Wheel, and that Terrorism will be crushed by our belief in
Courage over Fear, Conviction over Intimidation, and Right Actions
Sunday--November 17, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 431
Zuni Indians "Eagle Dance"
For Sentinels At Ground Zero
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York
City, Nov. 17 -- The
Spirits of Vigilance danced at Ground Zero yesterday (Sun, Nov. 16). They
danced with eagle’s feathers. They danced with colorful pots on their heads.
They danced with stars in their eyes.
In the wake of Nine Eleven, ancient rituals seem more modern than
anachronistic. At least, that’s how I felt as my wife and I watched the
famous Zuni Indian Cellicion family dancers soar on the oval stage of the
rotunda at Manhattan's Alexander Hamilton Custom House. The Eagle
Dance was one of three performed at the Smithsonian National Museum of the
American Indian, housed inside the Custom House and located just a few blocks from Ground
The Eagle Dance
performed by the Cellicion Men
The Zuni family “tribe” has carried on
the legacy of ritual dancing for three generations. They
perform globally. Their most recent tour was in the Baltic States
where they danced in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The director, Fernando Cellicion, is a world famous
Yesterday, the Zunis brought the “Great
Spirit” to life just a few blocks from Ground Zero. I interpreted
their dances as a call to the Great Spirits, a petition to bring favor
upon the children of earth, to fertilize the seeds of prosperity, and to
wash away the blood of Terrorism
Historically, the Zunis are one of the few
American Indian tribes to have survived the wrath of the "modern world."
The Zuni Indians of today are one of 19 original tribes that once
inhabited the area that is now called New Mexico and Arizona - The Zuni
River Valley. The tribe is said to have originated from a
tribe that lived in the same area over 1,500 years prior to the coming of
the Europeans - 400 AD. This tribe, the Anasazi, was a large society that
encompassed large amounts of land, riches and many distinct cultures and
civilizations. The Zuni are thought to be direct descendants of the
The Zuni are also distinct in that they have managed to
remain quite unaffected by outer influences. They still claim the same
land they always lived on, an area about the size of Rhode Island. They
also mainly reside in one city, Zuni, New Mexico.
Although there are Zuni Indians who live outside of the
city and the general area, they are few and far between. The tribe has
managed to remain intact due to the fact that they were never involved
with problems that didn't concern their own people. Because they did not
fight in any wars or take sides in any conflicts, they were able to remain
autonomous and were unaffected by the changes around them.
I was entranced by the performance held under a
magnificent oval dome in the Customs House, surrounded by frescoes telling
the story of American history.
The Eagle Dancers came out first. They swooped down, their arms
carrying finely shaped Eagle’s feathers remarkably resembling the
magnificent raptor who can see "all," and is powerfully wise.
Because the eagle soars high above earth, it is considered the connecting
link between Heaven and Earth; eagle plumes are believed to be the prayer
Wings spread wide, the Zuni Eagle dancers banked, swooped and
appeared to rise as though on lofts of air scooped upward by the Great
Spirit, a symbol of their mastery over gravity, and their eagle-eyed
Vigilance over life itself.
As the dancers swooped and turned, I was lifted back to the events
of Nine Eleven just over a year ago.
I remembered the surreal scene too well.
Before the Towers fell, the azure September sky was filled with
orange and black balls flame spewing out of the Trade Center’s vital
organs eight hundred feet above me. I craned my neck backwards to watch
the horror of the building’s mortal wound.
Around the belching flames and smoke eighty stories high was a halo
of fluttering wings. I stared hard at them, confused at first. Were they
sea gulls? Pigeons? Doves? Why would thousands of birds circle the
burning Twin Towers, I thought.
Then I saw people leaping from the shattered windows to their
death. They were choosing to die rather than be burned to death.
I groaned as their bodies took flight for a brief instant, suddenly
sinking down at 125 miles per hour, arms and legs flailing, trying to fly
but unable to. Others leaps without flailing, holding hands and leaping
as though below was a soft bath of water that would capture them safely in
Again, I strained my eyes to make out the flock of birds circled
the towers. They appeared to be witnessing the inhumanity of the
Terrorists, the ugliness of human Terrorism ravishing the innocent. They
must be doves, I thought, or gulls, or pigeons. My mind raced to identify
them. In the pain of watching so many human sacrifices, I
wanted them to be symbols from Nature, blessing the souls of those dying
such horrible deaths, messengers of the good that comes out of the bad, of
the beauty trapped in the heart of human ugliness. Perhaps they were
eagles, I thought, stretching my imagination to its extremes.
Then it dawned on me.
The flock of birds swirling about the Twin Towers weren’t pigeons
or doves or eagles or peregrines. The fluttering wings I thought I saw
ringing the orange-black kerosene fueled balls of fire were simply
millions of pieces of paper sucked out of the burning building when the
Terrorists' plane smashed into them. Each piece of paper was caught
in the vortex created by up and down drafts creating a whirlwind. A
moment earlier I wanted to believe that a touch of beauty was blessing the
horror unfolding. My heart sank. I felt the Beast of Reality’s icy
hand on my shoulder.
My “Eagles of Vigilance,” my “Doves
of Vigilance,” my “Raptors of Vigilance” were mere thin pieces of paper
caught in the maelstrom, forming a halo spinning about the axis of the
enflamed Twin Towers. I stood watching, frozen.
Then the buildings collapsed. A great roar rumbled as the building
split for a eternal second, seemingly hanging in mid air before it fell
down like a bomb, exploding and crushing all beneath it. I clutched
a group of women next to me and shoved them against a wall for protection
and waited for Hell's wrath to descend.
Stumbling out of the ash, I found a spot and sat and began to write
on my laptop. I knew this was a historic moment in the history of
modern civilization and wanted to capture every feeling I had, to reflect
every emotion, paint the scenes unfolding before me in the fog of Terror's
As the clouds of hellish destruction reigned
down, so did the millions of pieces of paper once the conduits of
communication by civilization. They fell without fanfare, leavened by
the weight of the damp concrete ash that formed a death mask on all it
touched. White paper rain drops, turned the color of death, flopped to
the ground silently. They were now the feathers of Terrorism--empty,
lifeless ashen pulp--the pages of history ripped from their private
libraries, sent to the winds of destruction. I remember being
surrounded by them, written in all various languages, some of them
charred, others ragged, some untouched smothered in the snow of ash that
covered me, my computer and America's Complacency that it could be
In the days that followed, the impact of Nine Eleven grew thicker
and harder in my mind. It pushed my mind toward revenge, hatred,
retaliation. As I began to boil inside, I thought of those
"flying papers." I thought of the "vision" I had they were "signs,"
messengers flying around as though to tell the world that the deaths of
those who died that day had not gone unnoticed, that they were not in
Native Americans call what I thought were
"Birds of Vigilance" a “sign.” The paper flock, I decided, were truly
Eagles of Vigilance, Raptors of Vigilance, Doves of Vigilance. The
“wings” that soared around girth of the burning Twin Towers that day were,
I decided, just as real as the “eagles” the Zuni dancers brought back to
life as they danced in the rotunda of the Customs House yesterday, 430
days post Ground Zero.
The eagle is a sign of Vigilance to Native Americans. It contains
great power and wisdom, as well as vision to see that which is blinded to
those without the “eagle’s eyes.” I considered the Zuni’s “Eagle Dance” a
way of reminding us all to be “Eagles of Vigilance,” to rise above our
Fear, Intimidation and Complacency on the wings of Courage, Conviction and
Right Actions—the feathers of Vigilance. As the Zunis had escaped
being trampled by the Terrors of Westernization, and like the Swedish
remained "neutral" to the wraths of war, they were the mediators between
Vigilance and Terrorism. They were not unlike Hans Blix, the
Swedish head of the U.N. Weapons Inspection team--responsible for carrying
the message between Terrorism and Vigilance in hopes war and more violence
could be avoided.
The Zunis were in charge of the eagle
feathers--the prayer petitions to Heaven. They were responsible for
bringing the Sentinels of Vigilance to earth, to keep them alive and well
in the minds of us all.
Following the Eagle Dance came the Pottery Dance. It was
performed by young Zuni women. They danced with an intricately
painted pot on their head, and
maze (corn) in their hands. The dance preserved the legacy of bringing
water to the village. The pots were painted using brushes from the
In ancient days the women would fill the pots with
water from the creek or river and walk with it atop their head, never
spilling a drop. Water was purity. Water was precious. It was
entrusted to the most innocent of the tribe—the young women who danced must at
peace and content with themselves otherwise the pot would fall. I watched
the oldest of the women pause before she stepped onto the platform.
She kissed the pot before placing it on her head, an act of reverence for
the liquid that brought life to the land and the people. I thought
of Vigilance as cool drink to a parched throat scorched by inhaling too
As the women danced there was that omnipresent concern
among the onlookers one of the
pots might fall off their head. They moved in circles, their legs moving
up and down as they kept cadence to the drumbeat. Their bodies leaned
left and right, but the pots remained straight, as though held in place by
performing the Pottery Dance
I thought of the souls of those who died on Nine Eleven. I
imagined their souls as the treasure inside the pots. The young Zuni women
were giving life to death, bringing water to the parched, bloody soil of
Ground Zero in a ritualistic manner. They could not afford Fear,
Intimidation or Complacency or the pots would teeter and fall from their
heads. Their belief in the power of the water and its ability to
fertilize life overpowered the Beast of Terror who fruitlessly sought to
impair their balance, to trip their Courage, Conviction and Right Actions
that balanced the pots atop their heads. The Beast of Terror would
rather the ground remain charred and barren than grow rich and fruitful.
The Zuni dancers drowned the Beast's wishes.
Finally, there was the Star Dance.
Together the men and women of the Cellicion family performed it. Stars,
we were told, were created by the Great Spirit to protect and guide
people. They are also the footprints of souls who have gone on
before us, heading toward the Milky Way where they will meet their
Creator. Shooting stars are symbols of those who are dying.
The Star Dance
The dancers wore head dresses representing the morning, evening and North
star. There was a black and white
pattern arcing over the headdress representing the Milky Way. I
thought of the nearly 3,000 stars circling Ground Zero, and that upon each
death at the hands of Terrorism a star fell from the sky, igniting
As the Zunis danced, I thought of one of
the great Paintings of Vigilance. It is of an Algonquin Indian on one
knee, his bow strung taut, an arrow balanced on the guide of the bow.
He is aiming up at the stars. Legend has it he was chided for
trying to shoot down a star. He responded, “one must reach
beyond the limitations of gravity, and dream beyond.”
I thought of the reverence to the stars represented by the Zuni's
dance. The stars are the children’s children’s children. They are the
diamonds in the sky--the hope that our future will be rid of Terror.
I am sometimes torn with doubt that people will
accept the presence of the Sentinels of Vigilance hovering over Ground
Zero, or believe that by signing and subscribing to the Pledge of
Vigilance they can chase Terror out of their children's minds and teach
them Courage over Fear, Confidence in the face of Intimidation and Right
Actions versus Complacency.
Sometimes the yoke of my own doubts crush
me into thinking how futile it is to "shoot for the stars," to try and get
the world to say: "Semper Vigilantes"--Always Vigilant rather than turning
over the duty to protect their children and loved ones to others such as
I sometimes wonder if I can
"hit the stars with my arrow.
Thankfully, the Zuni Indians know I can.
They know the world as we see it isn’t what it is.
They know the world as it can be has been seen.
It is seen through the eagle’s eye. It is in the shape of a
water pot. It is a star twinkling above. It is a shooting star.
Watching the Zuni family dance, reinforced the importance of believing in
the Sentinels of Vigilance.
When I saw the “paper” swirling around the Twin Towers on Nine
Eleven, I was absolutely convinced they were Birds of Vigilance, providing
humanity with a sign that out of the fires of Hell comes the Feathers of
Peace, out of the Bowels of Terrorism comes the Fruits of Vigilance.
The Zuni Indians did not dance to remember the white man’s
mistreatment of them, or to perpetuate the Trail of Tears where thousands
of Native Americans were forced to march from their homeland to
reservations, and countless numbers died along the way.
The Zuni’s put honoring Terrorism with Terrorism to the side.
They were the brokers of peace, the Sentinels of Vigilance in living form.
They danced for Vigilance not against Terrorism.
They danced to promote the mysteries of legends, the same kind of
legends that makes the Sentinels of Vigilance alive and well and hovering
over Ground Zero. The kind of Vigilance that keeps the memory of a
loved one lost in battle or war close to the heart.
They danced to preserve the belief every person on earth can put
an arrow in the Bow of Vigilance and shoot it at the stars.
They danced to make the Eagles of Vigilance soar.
of Vigilance Walks Into Jaws of Terror
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