Big Time Thank Yous: A Traditional Prayer of Thanksgiving
Ted Williams crossed over September 28, 2005.
As he would say, “This prayer goes on forever!”
After I got to know Ted and his wife, Diana, I considered them elders and teachers for me. Ted and Diana have both crossed over now. As friends, they will be greatly missed. As teachers and wise ones, their words resonate throughout my life.
Erin Everett interviews Tuscarora elder Ted Williams
This interview first appeared in New Life Journal magazine.
Ted Williams was a writer, an artist, and an elder from the Tuscarora tribe in the Iroquois nation in New York State. He lived near Asheville NC, USA with his wife, Diana Osborne, a homeopath, in the house that they built together. They built it with trees on their land that had been felled by a storm. This is quite an accomplishment for anyone but even more impressive for Ted, considering that he was in his seventies. My thirty-year-old friend Jay told me about Ted Williams. He played disk golf with him. I asked Ted about his game and the recent championship that he won.
Ted: So, last year I told the people I was playing against, “If you’re going to win, it will be this year because I’m building a house.”
EE: So, did they win?
Ted: No! So this year they didn’t have a chance.
After we talked and laughed for a while about disk golf, and after he told me a number of amazing stories about the magic and humor of his life and experiences, we got to one question I really wanted him to answer.
EE: Ted, so many of us in this modern culture feel lost, like we’re missing out on something that people raised in a traditional culture have. We’re missing the magic of connection to our world. What you can tell people about learning how to connect?
Ted: Okay, the first thing would be, for me, every morning and every night I say what’s called the Thanksgiving Address. I end up by saying to each element, “Three times three times three big time thank yous. Now in our life, energy, divine consciousness, we are like one.”
In the beginning of it, it has a prelude to it. We say, “As you know, we’re all just part of the great cycles of all things and because we’re all part of the same Creation, we’re all just part of one tremendous family. Not only within the element called People, but intimate kin to all the elements, in divine harmony with the Universe. So magnificent and so magical is this divine harmony of the Universe that even the greatest scholars, physicists, philosophers, theologists, astronomers, they still don’t have all the answers, still seeking the answers. Our Faithkeepers in the Longhouse, they think gratitude is the beginning of knowledge and understanding, and so maybe they’ll even say it twice so that the children will hear: “Gratitude is the beginning of knowledge and understanding.”
And so before any significant occasion, they’ll always do the Thanksgiving Address and so powerful is it, it’s like the life force of their teaching. When you do the Thanksgiving Address, it brings forth the Essence of Creator, or higher consciousness. So when that happens so powerful does the atmosphere become in a divine way that some of our secular thoughts just automatically drift off in deference or maybe in shame. It makes room for some of that divineness to enter, and when that happens, if we have decisions to make they won’t be made by our normal selves but with divine intervention.
And so, they said that in the beginning, in creation, we, the element called People, were the last to be created, and we were designated to be caretakers. And so we were given four tools with which to do that. We were given our good thoughts, and second was our good feelings, and third was our good words, and last was our good deeds. That’s the order of importance, and they ask, well, how come our good deeds come last? I say, because if you ask the person to do a good deed, they would never do it, for the four directions. First they would think of their own relatives or their children or another person. They would probably stay within the element People, you know, for good deeds. Or maybe environmentally they might go. But it’s beyond them to think of taking care of making this a better world by talking to the four directions or anything that they would think of as far out elements. I’ll just end that part by saying, for all the time our ancestors did the best they could to make this a better world using those four tools, they have left us with a great good feeling. With happy hearts we thank the Creator that this is so.
And then they do the Thanksgiving Address, and the Thanksgiving Address can be fairly long but I don’t care, I do it in the morning and at night, too. We greet and we introduce into our consciousness, our mind, and our spirit the first element, People. And we start with People at the bottom of the ladder and work up. I guess it’s for the sake of humility…humbleness is the secret to power. I want to interject here a story that epitomizes that.
There was a guy named Empty Cloud. He was Chinese, Buddhist. He was enlightened, but he didn’t know it. And he was just traveling, walking, and when he came to a village and it was in disrepair, especially the temple, he wouldn’t go until that was all fixed. When he would even be a mile yet from any village, all the bells would ring, that was how powerful he was. So, at this one place, when he came to it, one of the elders there was able to recognize and remember that such a phenomenon existed. He was all excited and said, “An enlightened person approaches! All the bells are ringing. So, let us go and meet him.” So they rushed down the mountainside to meet Empty Cloud, and because he looked like a bum, they knocked him right out of the way and then he got up, and the last person was going by, and he said, “What’s all the commotion?” He said, “An enlightened person approaches!” So he got in line! To me, that’s why he was so powerful.
So, that’s the first element, that’s what they speak about the element People. First we should be thankful because if it wasn’t for our ancestors, then we couldn’t be here. In the Six Nations tradition, we need to thank them for telling all the medicine, the ceremony, the songs that need to be sung, all the things they taught us about that. The biggest thing would be the Great Law itself, the philosophy of the Six Nations. And so that takes ten days to recite, and they didn’t have a written thing, so the people that knew would recite. So then they say, “We open our hearts to all the people, and we wish to thank you for all you have given us.” I would say in the Tuscarora, “Three times three times three big time thank yous, now in our life energy divine consciousness we are like one.”
So I go through that whole thing every day and every night. The next element we greet and introduce is our Mother Earth. Now, in the Longhouse there are such eloquent speakers, they take quite a bit of time to talk about each thing. They might say, “And we can see our Mother as we may have seen her in a vision quest. It’s the same as a picture taken by Apollo 17: a blue and white opalescent orb gliding gracefully and effortlessly through space—a beautiful, beautiful sight, as though she’s on a spiritual mission. And we are over her looking at the blue of the ocean and the misty white cloud cover and the white polar caps. A beautiful thing. And she has never told a lie, no ulterior motives, and she provides us with anything we could ever need: food, clothing, shelter, fuel, medicine, love, divine consciousness. We just have to open our heart and say, “Mom, we love you so much. We’re here to thank you.” And then I say that again: “Three times three times three big time thank yous, now in our life energy divine consciousness we are like one.”
So I go through all of the elements that we talk to; the next one is all the Plant Life. First we speak to all the plant medicines, and then we thank them. And then we speak of all the food plants and we thank them. They are represented by the three sacred sisters, the corn, the beans, and the squash. Then the next element we talk to is Water.
And we might say, we can see that Water in so many beautiful different forms: in icicles and snowflakes and moondogs and sundogs and rainbows and clouds and glaciers and oceans and waterfalls. And even little droplets of dew on a spiderweb, the sweat on our brow, the steam in a sweat lodge. When we become out of balance, we are shown that we are not in charge of what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes a flood will come and put us on our knees begging for forgiveness or showing that we’ve gone too far. And then we realize, too, that we could be crawling in a desert, begging for a cup of water, but knowing that could drown you. And knowing that we are ourselves 85 percent or so of water, knowing how important water is to all life. And then we say, “Three times three times three big time thank yous, now in our life energy divine consciousness we are like one.”
And then the next element: we talk to all of the Creatures, in the ocean and on the land, even the smallest of them, and the magical things that they are, the fireflies and the electric eels. We don’t have some of those properties, and they are our sisters and brothers, and if we talk to them, they will be willing to help us, you know? And so, this great orator Tom Porter said, “And even the fish, they are so stubborn; they still want to be our food, even when they are so polluted.” If you talk a lot about all of those things, the people listening, even the children, start to realize how important all of the other elements are to our existence. And then you say the thank you for that.
And then the next element, we talk to Trees. They are so different from plants. They name all of the different medicine trees, and they say the great white pine is a symbol of the Great Law of the Great Peace. And, incidentally, this is a medicine that I would like to put out into society: if you know people, even the younger people, who are depressed and headed for suicide, they can go and find a white pine tree and sit against it for a while. It’s a cure for depression. My father told me about it, because I used to tease him, you know. I would see how much does he know. I would say, if I could ask a question that he can’t answer, then I must be smarter than him, you know? So I asked him, “What’s a cure for depression?” He said, “Oh, that’s simple. You just sit up against a white pine tree.” I said, “Well, how does it do it?” And he said, “I don’t know.” After a while, he said, “Why do they put steeples on churches? What about lightning rods? What about acupuncture? The power of preservation in pyramids? If you burn a piece of paper with a magnifying glass, what are the shapes of the rays of the sun? There’s a point of power there.” So, then after a while he said, “So how many needles are on a pine tree?” and then he walks away. So I guess I didn’t win that! I thought I would have been smarter than him on that.
So that’s what we talk about, the different medicine trees. They say that the principal tree is the one that gives of its blood for our enjoyment; that’s maple syrup from the sugar maple. So they thank the trees.
Then they go to the Birds, and they tell about how the birds have given us everything the other animals have given, but have also blessed us with the gift of flight and the beautiful songs that they sing. And then they go on to the Thunder, and they speak with the Thunder. They begin to get to the point now that the thinness that’s already existing, that we are sisters and brothers to things, gets even thinner as we go out into the Universe. To think that our Grandfather is Thunder, and that he is scolding away some of the evil that is getting next to us, it gets pretty far out and hard, and that’s even maybe where some people would stop believing that, you know. And yet, even though that’s hard to believe, you can even just imagine what all the plant life thinks when they hear Grandfather coming, bringing ionized rain behind him. It’s powerful! You wanted to know what should people do, and if you say that day and night, after a while it becomes a part of you. You can speak to your Grandfather much easier. And so you thank Grandfather.
The next is the Four Winds and the Four Directions. And of course now, when you speak to the Four Directions, you’re translating molecular structure. That becomes even harder, to think that you can speak that. Yet that to me is the epitome of the element that I make a connection with, to the higher consciousness. And, I don’t know why, but Fool’s Crow did it, and that’s why… I emulated Fool’s Crow, and he was successful. And I thought, he somehow found out the secret. Because he could go in a sweat lodge with cold stones and just heat them right up, make them go. So I say, well he knows what he’s up to, so that’s the connection that I have with the Four Directions, especially the direction of the West. Wararehd’iss is what we call it. So I call on the West all the time, too. Then I say, tell the other directions and tell the higher consciousness that this is the problem and it needs to be taken care of, and then I say thank you, you know.
So I’ll continue to go to the next: the Night Sun, Grandmother Moon. She would be saying, “I’m a symbol to let you know that you as a species shall never be forgotten. The women among you have been given a time cycle period called the Moon, and at a very special time in that cycle they can become fertile and reproduce. And for those of you who don’t believe that there is indeed an attraction between you and I and Mother Earth, then just witness the rising and falling of the tides.”
It’s easy to think of the element as part of your family if you say it the way that I’m saying it. Then you begin to realize that there really is a connection between women having a monthly cycle and the Moon.
Then the next element is the Day Sun, and they say that maybe we don’t know all the vitamins and all of the trace elements that we’ve been getting. If there’s been a change…they say that the ozone layer and different things are changing all the time, but if we look at it negatively, that’s the result that will come to us as an individual. But if we think that the change might be for the best… You know, Edgar Cayce would say, if a person had a certain kind of cancer, he would say, well, they need ultraviolet rays filtered through green glass. So maybe this thing we have out in the ozone layer, maybe we’re filtering it through green glass, and maybe it is countering some of the toxic illnesses that we are now getting. And we don’t know that we would have died quicker if it hadn’t been for that. Our elder brother the Sun is taking care of us yet. We can get farther away from healing if we think negatively, saying, oh, how terrible it is. Seeing catastrophic events, thinking that way, rather than positively. Like we know better; we have the written word!
The next element is the Stars, and we say that, maybe you have lain out in a field in the summertime in some soft grass and looked upward when there wasn’t any other light, and it just looks like billions and billions of diamonds winking at you like they have some kind of message to impart to you, you know. If you just kept laying there and let them talk, you might say, looking at them, there must be thousands of other solar systems out there, with their own Day Sun for a nucleus and all the celestial bodies bobbing about, and then after a while, if you keep looking at it, you’ll say, my, how simple. What it’s telling you is that what you’re looking at is nothing but a replica of the molecular structure of all other things. Even the internal workings of an atom, the neutrons and protons, ions, electrons. Each small particle is less physical than the other until you reach the pure energy of the divine consciousness, the recipe of all that there is, including ourselves. You finally realize how connected we are and what a tremendous responsibility we have in taking care of this magical thing that we have, you know. Like I say, you asked me in the beginning what it is that we can tell people, and it is that we definitely can talk to any part of the elements of the universe and receive help. Because if we don’t, we don’t think that way, we feel like we are on our own, and it looks like we are being overwhelmed by toxic elements, and pretty soon we are on our own, all by ourselves, and we don’t have all the help that’s just willing to help you if you communicate.
And of course, at the end, we give thanks to soougwioodeessuteh, higher consciousness, the essence of Creator. To me, I don’t feel worthy of making a direct connection. But I use the Four Directions, using the West; I’ll say to the West, tell the North, the East and the South and soougwioodeessuteh that this situation exists and that you need to take care of it.
So that’s the essence, I think, of what I would tell anybody. You’re losing connections with the other elements that are your family.
Ted Williams wrote the wise and humorous book The Reservation (Syracuse University Press, 1976, 1985, 1990) about his life growing up on the Tuscarora reservation. His last book, Big Medicine from the Six Nations, was published posthumously and is available from Long Branch Environmental Education Center, 828 683 3662, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erin Everett is the past editor and publisher of New Life Journal, and co-owner of Bee and Tree. Contact her at email@example.com