Introducing Rena Swifthawk
The following article first appeared in issue 59 of The TV/TS Tapestry.
Rena, while not actually being one of the organizers of Kindred Spirits, had an influence on the formation of the group. The Kindred Spirits mailing list web site states:
Kindred Spirits evolved from a 1992 invitation and challenge by Rena Swifthawk [...] for TG people to claim a two spirit role within Western culture.
I'm unable to explain why Rena Swifthawk fascinates me. But she does.
By: Merissa Sherrill Lynn
Rena is a Kiowa and Chiricahua Apache Medicine Woman currently living a traditionaI Native American lifestyle on the Southern Ute Reservation in Southwest Colorado. She is also a Mahoe (berdache) who underwent sexual reassignment surgery in May, 1991. Ifirst met Rena at our national convention held last April in Denver. Rena was to be a presentor, and having a natural affinity for Native American traditions, I was looking forward to meeting her. However, before I knew who she was I met her and felt an immediate connection with her childlike playfulness, a playfulness that matched my own. It took us approximately ten seconds to become friends. I was very surprised when I found out who she was, and even more surprised when I gained insight into the power other spirit Throughout the convention it became obvious that a power beyond our own put us in that couch together at that precise moment in both our lives. Like Rena, I also had a spiritual nature. Also like Rena, I have dedicated my life to helping others. There was a reason for us to meet. Since the convention Rena and I have decided to become life companions and devote ourselves to helping each other fulfill our reasons for being. It is an honor for me to be able to introduce Rena Delores Singing Springwater Swifthawk. I love her and believe in her more than I can say.
-- Merissa Sherrill Lynn
by: Rena Swifthawk
It is not my intention to tell you my life story. That will come at a different time through a different medium. Instead, I would like to share with you some of the events that helped shape my life, and give you some insight into my life's work.
Medicine people have always been a fundamental part of the Native American side of my family's history. For instance, my blood father was a very powerful medicine man who abandoned my family beforel was born in order to pursue his holy path. His brother, my Uncle Horace, is one of the most powerful and respected medicine men in the Southwest, and continues to be one of my most important mentors. However, because I was being raised in a non-traditional way, my path as a medicine person did not become clear to me until my thirteenth birthday, and even then I was not able to follow my path for many years.
From the time I was born I had a very feminine nature, a feminine appearance, and a spiritual specialness that no one could explain. Uncle Horace knew, but he did not tell me. Throughout my childhood being that way was never a problem for me. It was, however, a very big problem for my macho-minded and intolerant stepfather. Not only was he intolerant, he was anglo, harbored a strong prejudice against indians, and had no respect for traditional ways. From my earliest childhood I knew the ugly realm of the closet.
Before I continue, I would like to explain something about the concept of the traditional Native American family. There are no orphans among traditional people. Elders are respected, they are the teachers, up and often called grandfathers or grandmothers. People who accept the responsibility to help raise the children are often called uncles and aunts. Peers are often called brothers and sisters. As a traditional Native American I have many grandfathers and grandmothers and uncles and aunts and brothers and sisters. I am never alone, nor will I ever be abandoned.
Another thing I want to explain is traditional Native Americans respect people in accordance to their spirit, and not whether or not they conform to established social doctrine. Therefore a Maho, or berdache, such as myself is going to find greater support and respect among traditional people, than others may find in the dominant society.
Because I was being raised by non-traditional people, I was denied traditional family values, and respect for my spirit. Then, on my thirteenth birthday, I visited Native American relatives in Southern Arizona. It was a special kind of day, and I could feel the energy even as I woke. In the east Grandfather Sun shone with a brightness I had never seen before, and in the west great thunderheads rolled over the horizon looking like kachinas (Hopi spirits) dancing in thesky. The mountains and trees connected me to the Great Grandmother Earth I stood upon. Still, while among all these great gifts, I felt a spiritual sadness.
There was a sense of unbalance on this Grandmother Earth, and I felt a great loss had come to the planet. I knew the people were not living in hannony with all the elements on this Earth. My grandfather, who was a Medicine Man, came to me.
When I spoke to him about this sense of imbalance, he said, "You are right, Little One, and it is good that you feel this way." As he spoke, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead. He told me, "The Bird People have come to bless you, and they are a spirit connected with me." I felt so good that tears came to my eyes.
Grandfather told me that I was special, that I possessed a gift that no one else in the family had. When I asked him what this gift was, he told me that I already knew. He reminded me that I had talked about the past, how people had been a long time ago, and that I had spoken of Grandmother Earth not being in balance with the people on this planet. He said the Creator had sent very different people to all the tribes, and that these people were bom with this special gift that Grandmother Earth needed. He said it was the true balance of man and woman. He offered no further comment, and I did not understand, but he was the catalyst that started me on my path. When I was fourteen my stepfather decided to make a "man" of me, and took me to a doctor who began giving me male hormones. I didn't know why I was being given these pills. I didn't even know what they were, but as a result my muscles grew, my voice deepened, and my face and body became covered with hair. I took up boxing. However, the more masculine I became the more out of balance I felt.
Through my teen years, as my sense of imbalance grew, I often thought about my grandfather's words, and wondered about the true balance of man and woman, and about my specialness. I still did not know what he meant, but as I grew older, I seemed to develop a special healing knowledge, and people of all ages came to me for help. I didn't understand where this healing knowledge came from, but I knew it was a very special gift, and always respected it.
By the time I was seventeen I was very lost, and my stepfather knew it. He told me I had to join the Army, and that would make a man of me. So, in 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, I went into the service. While in Vietnam, the burden of my gender conflict got too heavy to carry, and I tried to commit suicide. In the process trying to end my life, I saved six of my fellow-soldiers, and was honored with a Silver Star for my bravery. Of course, they had no idea what I was trying to do, but, as it has been said before, "The Creator works in ways strange to us."
At this time I would like to explain something about training to be a shaman. One of the methods of learning is to place oneself in a place that is particularly receptive to spiritual forces, such as a river, or mountain, or cave. After my discharge from the service I returned to Arizona and went into a great canyon to live and to learn for one year. While there I lived in caves, on the canyon walls, in trees, and by the river. During that year I spiritually experienced a lifetime of knowledge. I walked with herds of antelope. I came upon mountain herds and the sense of peace in their hearts came into me from their eyes. I often went to sweat lodges to pray and to center myself. I climbed to the high rims of the canyon walls and was at eye-level with the eagles and the hawks. When I entered the canyon I felt greatly out of balance with the center of the earth. When I left the canyon I was back in balance with the earth, or, as we Indians say, with Grandmother Earth.
Another method of learning was to simply wander, but wander in a constantly meditative and aware state. For two years after I left the canyon I wandered all over the United States. I stayed with different religious organizations, cults, and groups throughout the land. All the time I struggled to remember my purpose on the earth as I worked to prepare myself to walk my path. During my travels I met an elder lady in New Hampshire. While with her I received the gift of the Light of Love and Laughter from the Creator. This is what is known as the White Light, one of tools I needed to do my work.
After leaving New Hampshire, I had amazing experiences healing people, and I thought to myself, "What power!" Then for a split second I thought how I could use that power for profit. Well, the knowledge and power I had were gifts from the Creator to the Ancestors of the North (our spiritual teachers and wise ones), who in turn gave them to me to serve humanity. If I was to be a shaman, which had been my quest since the age of thirteen, I had to accept the responsibility for maintaining a balance between humanity, the natural world (Grandmother Earth) and the world of the sacred powers, and accept that responsibility without thought of personal profit. Not only did I have thoughts of personal profit, I was not in balance with myself. If I was not in balance with myself I could not accept the responsibility for maintaining a balance between humanity, the natural world, and the sacred powers. It was obvious that I wasn't ready to be a shaman. I could not yet walk down the road of shamans and medicine people. I was only twenty-two years old and there was so much more I needed to learn. I was saddened by the reality, but grateful for the awareness.
I never wanted to further trash Grandmother Earth with false ways, or any uncleanliness. I didn't want to join the invaders of respect and love and the balance of life. After my two years of wandering, I returned to Arizona, got married, began making jewelry, and went to college to become a better craftsman. For twelve years I lived the life of an ordinary and financially successful citizen. Yet, important things happened that kept me on my path. For example, I accidentally splashed a jewelry oxidizing agent made of hydrochloric acid and selenium into my eyes, and I was blinded. After four months of treatments, the doctors told me I would never see again. Then Uncle Horace reminded me that I was a special person, and told me to tap into those things that I had learned. I began doctoring myself and I regained my eyesight over night. The doctors said it was medically impossible. Another example happened one day while I was working at my jewelry, stand. I accidentally knocked over a propane tank and it exploded. The explosion blew me against the ceiling and I was knocked unconscious. When I regained consciousness I was engulfed in flames and my house was an inferno. I escaped, only to find that I was completely untouched. I had just walked out of a furnace, and I wasn't even singed. I heard my wife screaming from the kitchen, and ran back through the flames to save her. When I got to her she kept on screaming. Later, I learned she was screaming because she thought I was dead. She kept screaming because I wasn't. I knew then that I did indeed have a very special gift.
Throughout the twelve years of my marriage I worked hard to be a good husband and a financially successful person. Yet, my desire to follow my path and the need to express my femininity grew stronger and stronger. I spent time with several different Medicine teachers, furthering my knowledge of the Medicine Way. I attended and gave lectures on spiritual ways. Then I learned I had Klinefelter's syndrome (hermaphrodite) (which was why my stepfather had me take male hormones). Finally, I knew, and that knowledge freed me to find my balance, and work towards coming to grips with my spiritual life. It also helped me realize that if I was to achieve balance, it would have to be as a woman.
After my divorce in 1985, I became involved in spiritual ceremonies such as the sacred Sundance, the Beardance, andthe Gourd Dance. I became a fire walker, and ran ceremonies in the Native American Church. Once again I sought the very special road that only Shamans dare to walk.
It took me most of my life to realize that my power of understanding the sacred ways could only be fully obtained as a female. In 1988 1 began my transition from male to female.
On May 2nd, 1991, 1 became female. Finally, I am in balance with myself, and have accepted the responsibility of maintaining a balance between humanity, the natural world, and the sacred powers. I have, achieved my life's ambition. I am a Shaman.
I devote my life, my knowledge, my gifts of healing, my understanding of the Ancient Traditions, and my love, to the people of this planet and to my sisters and brothers in the CD/TS community.
At this time, I want to tell you in a good way, that I love you.
Copyright © 1991 by the International Foundation for Gender Education. This article is reprinted in accordance with the reprint guidelines which state: "The Tapestry gives permission to all non-profit CD/TS organizations and services to reprint any item from the Tapestry (with the exception of the paid advertisements and personal listings directory).
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