From Santa Fean magazine, Special Indian Market issue, August 2007:
“Some readers may be offended by the idea of a white woman ‘playing Indian,’” admits Marsha Scarbrough in the preface of her new memoir, Medicine Dance. The book, which details her multi-year exploration of Native American spirituality—guided by non-traditional healer Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael)—does at first seem to be a fairly stereotypical account. From ancestor prayers to sweat lodges and dance fasts, she follows her teacher’s advice unfailingly, from California to New Mexico, despite feeling at times skeptical or ridiculous. But Scarbrough’s unflinching inner dialogue, combined with Rael’s approach—adapted for “contemporary society and people of many cultures”—helps avoid the high-mindedness that plagues similar tales. Scarbrough is careful to present her story as the journey of one individual, consistently focusing on her own struggles with family, cancer, mortality, and a sometimes horrifyingly impersonal healthcare system. With its polished prose and meticulous description, Dance stands as a graceful illustration of how free cultural exchange helped heal one life.
Marsha Scarbrough's Medicine Dance is a moving and superbly told story of an ordinary woman learning to understand herself and the dynamics of her relationships with others. At another level, it is the story of an apprenticeship in ancient and sacred ways of healing and transformation.
As with all good teaching stories, while you are listening to the narrative, deep soul lessons tend to sneak right through the gates of your unconscious. So this is a spiritual health warning: after you read this book you might find yourself taking risks you never had the courage to take before.
Marian Van Eyk McCain, BSW, MA (East-West Psychology)
Author of Transformation Through Menopause (NY, Bergin & Garvey, 1991) and ELDERWOMAN: reap the wisdom, feel the power, embrace the Joy
(Scotland, Findhorn Press 2002)
A great book! Marsha Scarbrough was allowed the gift that most Caucasians are not afforded; that of participating in the sweat lodges, and ceremonial dance. It was fascinating to read of her experiences firsthand. I loved the author’s explanation of the ‘Fasting Dances,’ and the ‘Sun Moon Dance’ was utterly heart stopping. Rev Dr Sandra Gaskin, www.spirit-works.net
Chapter One: Beautiful Painted Arrow
I smell smoke. I look for the telltale plume of a brush fire in the hills above a modest California bungalow. I don’t see one. I take a deep breath, gather my courage, step up to the door and knock. The strange pungent smoke I smell is drifting out through the screen door. A man appears and ushers me in. It’s hard to tell how old he is, but his dark skin is weathered. He’s probably in his fifties or early sixties. He’s dressed in a sport shirt and jeans. If you passed him on the street, you wouldn’t look twice. You’d think he was just one of the many Latinos who live in Los Angeles. He’s actually a Native American medicine man.
He says, “You must be Marsha.”
“Yes. You must be Beautiful Painted Arrow.”
He says, “Call me Joseph.”
“Is something burning?”
He shows me dried leaves smoldering in an abalone shell. As he fans the smoke over me, he explains that it will purify me and make me sacred. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming.
He asks me why I’ve come to see him.
“My mammogram came up bad. Suspicious shadows. The doctors have been jerking me around for six weeks. They can’t figure out what’s going on. I’m having an ultra-sound tomorrow.”
I stop talking, but he continues to listen. Deep silence fills the space between us. Finally he says, "So what do you think is going on?"
"The spot they’re looking at is over my heart."
"Well, let's see if you have a wounded heart."
He asks me to stand, so he can brush my back with an eagle feather fan to clean my aura. He wields the fan with strong, bold strokes. Whooshing gusts of air cause tingling sensations across my shoulders and along my spine. I feel like something has been lifted off my back.
He asks me to lie down on the sofa.
"Tell me what images come into your mind as I work with you."
I worry that I won’t see any images at all. Maybe he’s a quack who just soaked me for a hundred and fifty bucks, or maybe I’m a spiritually deficient white woman who has no talent for this game.
My fear doesn’t last long. He holds his hands over my solar plexus. I close my eyes. The blackness behind my eyelids begins to glow like he turned on a television screen.
“Wow! I see light! Turquoise light…it’s moving…into a ball. Now it’s changing into…a cube. It’s in 3-D…like a laser light show. And it’s glowing…blue. Now it’s shifted into a pyramid.”
“Good.” He moves his hands over my chest.
“I see a black panther in the jungle. She’s laughing at me.”
He moves his hands over my stomach.
“I see some petroglyph-looking people. They’re dancing…like they’re having a party.”
He laughs and says, "That's good. I'm going to move energy through your body. Tell me when it gets to your feet."
He puts one hand at the base of my throat and one hand at the top of my solar plexus. Warmth flows between his hands, but my feet are cold. He moves one hand to my stomach. Warmth flows...but not to my feet. He moves his hands again. Energy flows as far as my knees, but it still doesn’t reach my feet.
"You're not quite ready to walk your talk, because there is something lodged in your heart. Do you want me to take it out?"