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Seminole Folklore and Culture

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One subject that I have always wanted to talk about on this blog is Seminole folklore, but I have never known a good way to approach the subject. Some of the elders whom I seek guidance on such matters communicated to me that they do not want me to discuss details or specifics because this is a very sensitive subject to them. So I think that I will look at it as a cultural or social anthropologist. (That was the specialty of my Mom's anthropology work, so I have always been interested in it as well.)

For doing Seminole War historical interpretation, you need to understand the culture if you want to do living history of a particular people and culture back in time. You must take into account the entire culture and beliefs in order to understand the people. You cannot take one thing and ignore another. Do this, and you will be surprised with what answers you get to your search.

After several years of doing this, I was faced with something that could only be explained through Seminole beliefs and medicine. It was probably the biggest epiphany that I had since doing the Seminole living history. It totally re-wrote my whole value and belief system, and told me exactly who I was. I grew up in Florida. I am intimately connected to the land.

You also have to drop all cultural biases and beliefs that make us expect a specific outcome. If you were raised in a strict Judeo-Christian background, you are taught that everything is either good or bad; heaven or hell. In the Muskogee or Seminole universe, there are two sides to everything, or often four sides to everything. One thing may be both good and bad depending on how it is used or seen from other sides. Things that we do not like such as snakes or mosquitoes all have their place or purpose regardless of their inconvenience to us.

Stories among the Seminoles are not regarded as myths, but things that Muskogee and Seminole people believe are real, and some have even experienced. Just as we do not go around calling the Bible myths, which is full of stories of a lot of the same things in Seminole beliefs, like talking animals, witches, ghosts, or strange beings. But more important is the message the story conveys. There is a story of a woman who was visited by creator in disguise, and because she refused to feed him from her kitchen, then he turned her into a woodpecker. The story is not so much about how woodpeckers were created; but instead, to be charitable to strangers.

Folklore explains the world around us. And if you grew up in Florida camping out in the forest like I did, then I feel raised by the land and the stories do make sense to me. Occasionally I hear something in the news, like someone who died a mysterious death on Lake Istokpoga. It is no mystery to me.

The Seminole (or Muskogee and all the southeastern tribes) have a way of life or practice that this folklore encompasses. They do not think of it as a religion, but more of a way of life. They have no name for it. The closest thing to a name is Nenne Mvskoke, or the Muskogee Road/Way. It is just what they are. You can be Christian, non-Christian, Buddhist or not a believer in much of anything. It is very accommodating.

There are many things about the legends or folklore that are not widely known outside the people who practice the Seminole ways. They do not like to talk about it to outsiders anymore. They feel that over the past 200 years, the white men have taken away almost all they have. The only thing they have left is their culture, language, and medicine, and this is being lost as well. They guard it well because they are afraid that if they don't, then that will be stolen from them as well.

On the other hand, there are a lot of anthropological and historical sources out there that do cover a lot of the Seminole culture and folklore.

I want to end on a positive note and mention the good guys. Every tribe needs medicine people. They do not always do the same things. Some are experts with plants like Susie Billie, who lived to be over 120 years old, or story tellers like the late Mary Johns who I knew. Some are medicine people by virtue of their knowledge about things. Some women keep their medicine exclusively to treat women, or some will treat both men and women. We are all familiar with the full-blown medicine makers such as Jose Billie or Ingram Billie. Those ones go through an extensive training of many years under several teachers and cover all the topics that would come under the wide definition of medicine.

But remember that the medicine people are there to treat their own people or community. They do not open a doctor's office in Miami to treat people outside the tribe. And much of their medicine is preventative or used to define the nature of the illness. Illnesses are usually defined as an imbalance of something. People have written the Seminole Tribune newspaper asking help or treatment from a medicine maker because they are desperately seeking a cure to cancer that they have. Unfortunately, there is no magic elixir or ceremony for them, and that is not how medicine makers work.

Medicine people can also have behavior that is erratic or at times, even hostile. Don't take it personally; that is just the nature of who they are. There are times where they have to be very abrupt with the things they say. They will give you an answer that might not be what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. Or they will lead you through a self-discovery to find the cure yourself.
Current Location:
the hammock
Current Mood:
awake awake
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