To Little Elk, schooled in the healing ways of the Pueblo, she was his destiny. He knew from a childhood vision that before he died he was to anoint a Medicine Woman, but not Pueblo. Cherokee.
To Lothar, she was the woman he had loved centuries ago, the woman he sought again in this life. Night after night, he woke her, instructing her to transcribe the knowledge of his world, a place dismissed by many as the stuff of myth and imagination. It took five years of such nightly sessions. She filled countless notebooks: The Manuals. He said the knowledge could save this world from the same fate as Atlantis. Lothar taught her Kolaemni, a method of healing using therapeutic touch. The word itself means “connecting with the light.”
To me, Mechi Garza is a friend, a writer, a teacher, a woman whose striking mixed-blood beauty is not diminished by more than seventy years, whose wisdom is often bottled with laughter, or tucked in the gentle squeeze of her hands. That I am the one writing about her surprises me, not her. Lothar had told her to tell the story to Zita. That we didn’t know each other at the time didn’t faze her. She knew the day would come.
I met “Grandmother Mechi” in 1996 at the annual conference of the International Woman’s Writing Guild where we each taught. I’m a romance writer; my class was on genre fiction. Mechi is a Choctaw-Cherokee tribal elder; her class was about finding the medicine woman in every writer. I took her class. She took mine. When the week was over, we knew we would become friends. In the fall of 2000, Mechi invited me to attend one of the most significant events of her life. She was to be officially installed as a Medicine Woman, a validation of the work she had been doing for 30 years. I had never been to any kind of ritual, much less one like this. I couldn’t buy a plane ticket fast enough.
Art Tequaecshe, “Little Elk,” a Medicine Man from New Mexico, an acclaimed potter, and Marine veteran from the 1950s, officiated. That he didn’t know Mechi at the time of his prophetic vision didn’t faze him. He knew the day would come.
So it was that the three of us gathered in a meadow on a mountain in West Virginia on a cold October weekend in 2000 to meet our destiny. I was the only one who didn’t realize it. I had come as a guest. I had planned to take both pictures and notes, perhaps for use in a future novel. But destiny is a wide road. Mechi asked if I would be part of the ritual and something stirred inside. I was being offered the Holy Grail.
I was one of several attendants who helped Mechi get dressed: brown buckskin for the first day’s ceremony, soft white leather tunic and leggings for the second day. On that second day, I listened as Wind Walker, lead drummer from the Turkey Clan, circled the perimeter calling the four directions. I listened as Little Elk chanted the ancient words he had learned from his grandmother. I listened as Mechi, once initiated, blessed each of us and gave new names to those who asked. I watched two hawks circle overhead.
People from all over the country came for the ceremony. The making of a Medicine Woman is a significant event. In truth, my participation was not significant to the ritual itself. To me, it was life-changing. I remember standing behind Mechi who was seated in a lawn chair, bundled in blankets and fur. I placed my hands on her shoulders, not to reassure her but to keep me anchored in reality. Ah, but Mechi had only one moccasined foot in this world, something I should have realized. As the procession around the meadow grew longer, the drumming stronger, and Mechi ever more still, I felt a current rush from her shoulders and into my palms. Had I just shaken hands with Lothar?
Eight years later, Mechi and I were again in ritual together. This time the ceremony was to close the week-long writers’ conference where we’d first met. This time, I officiated. Four hundred women had journeyed from all over the world to be there. For many of them, the emotional discoveries made that week had been profound. I asked Mechi to help me hold the energy. Again, I stood behind her, my hands on her shoulders. This time she was in a wheelchair.
For the next three years, failing health kept Mechi from attending the conference. She’s much better now, busier than ever. I look forward to being in ritual with her again, standing behind, my hands on her shoulders, vibrating from the energy of the woman who showed me my destiny.
To learn more about Mechi and to see more photographs from her installation, please visit www.mechigarza.webs.com