Giving Voice to the Earth Dreaming

by Kimmy Johnson

Slot canyon

Out of the great void before the beginning, the Spirit of All that Is dreamed all that Is into being. At the center of All that Is, at the core of each particle, atom, each cell, is the Dream before the beginning, the Dream without end. We are expressions, emanations, of that Dream, dreamed and dreaming.

I dream of a landscape of bones – the bones of the ancestors of all the Earth’s creatures scattered across the land under a dark sky. White bones against a black and grey landscape. Life has receded back into the depths, leaving only the rocky skeleton of the Earth’s creatures. I am alone, a witness to what was and what has come to pass.

I wake from the dream staggered by grief. I am aware that my kind has brought on this devastation – I stand in the wreckage of human greed. The Earth is showing me what is happening to her and where it will lead. Yet even amidst the devastation, I feel the gentle presence of the Earth. I am like a child being led gently by her mother. I feel the Earth’s tender care of me, and I feel her sorrow

There are personal dreams and dreams that come through from a greater knowing, a vastness that extends far beyond the boundaries of a human life. This dream of the Earth’s body came to me from that greater knowing – it came and tore at my heart. When given these dreams, these visions of what is ahead or what has happened long ago in the beginning, we are overwhelmed by their power and mystery. They burst through the layers of ego and self-concern, immersing us in the vast expanse of being.

As a child I was given a dream of remembering, a dream of death brought on the native people of the land of my birth by the US Cavalry. The dream showed me a horrifying and tragic happening that had taken place almost one hundred years before.

I watch in terror and anguish as men in dark uniforms carry off a woman who is my mother.  They come from the south, riding hard. All around me is terror and confusion as the horses spin and screams fill the air.

Kimmy K. Johnson, Ph.D., teaches courses and workshops in ancestral consciousness and healing, dreams as indigenous knowledge, shamanic traditions of our ancestors, and writing at St. Mary’s College of California, John F. Kennedy University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. She completed doctoral work in Traditional Knowledge at the California Institute of Integral Studies.  Her scholarship, writing and teaching explores remembrance of who we are, recovery of relationship with the Earth, and reconnecting with place, ancestors and stories.  Her medicine offers healing of our relationships with self, community and the land.  Email: [email protected].

Forty years later I learn about the massacre at Blue Water Creek in Western Nebraska. General Harney and his force of 650 soldiers, dragoons and Calvary attacked an encampment of 250 Brulĕ and Cheyenne men, women and children camped along the banks of the creek.  The year was 1855.

The dream came to me in 1947 or 1948. We were living less than four miles from the site of the massacre. I knew nothing of this “battle,” and yet a dream came to me from the land, showing me the horror of that morning a hundred years ago. The land remembers. It holds our blood, our bones, our memories. The land remembered that day in September 1855, …and it gave me the dream to carry until I could join in the remembering. The dream came to me through the land, a remembering dream that called me to serve the memory it carried.

“The dream is in the landscape and the landscape is in the dream.” Apela Colorado, my mentor and friend, told me this when I was in graduate school studying traditional ways of knowing. Her words gave meaning to the remembering dream, a dream intricately woven into the landscape of my childhood. The landscape held that memory and then brought it alive in me.

How different my life might have been had I been taken as a child to talk with a traditional medicine man or woman, a shaman able to see into the mystery of the dream. Would this shaman have freed me from the shadow of that remembering? Would she have cast out the terror and set my feet back on a good and true path? But there was no shaman available to my mother or to me, no one who could weave me back into a whole and present moment, free from the horrors of the past.  The dream sank in to my soul, buried there, waiting.

These dreams also call us to healing and reconciliation with the land and with the history of that place.

Yet the dream would not leave me; it called to me to hear the voices of children and mothers who died, the families torn apart. The land held those voices – the rolling Sandhills, the prairie winds, the waters of Blue Creek. And I heard their cries and the voices echoed inside me.   

Days, years, decades passed. Whenever dreams were talked about, that was the dream that came to mind, vivid, charged as lightening. The images, the power remained shrouded in mystery. Yet there was an insistence about it that never subsided.

What are these dreams that find us and will not let us go? These dreams shape our destinies in ways beyond imagining. They are harbingers of suffering and founts of healing in an individual life. These dreams also call us to healing and reconciliation with the land and with the history of that place. My own journey of remembrance culminated many years later in a ceremony led by a Lakota Holy Man. After hearing of my dream, the spirits instructed him to bring me to Pine Ridge in order that the souls of his ancestors who had been at Blue Water might be released, and that I and my family might be freed from suffering. That ceremony continues to work inside me, weaving me back in to the great web of life. I give thanks to the land, to the dream, and to the Holy Man who gave so freely of his medicine.

Dreams of the future, dreams of the past – the Earth holds all in her body, in her stones, in her waters. The people of the land, the indigenous ones, listened and learned from the Earth and all her creatures. In dreams they were shown where to find game, where to fish, where to bury their dead, and where to gather berries. Their dreams even showed them the trail up through the stars to be followed after death. Dreams and visions came to them from the plants, the animals, the wind, and streams. They listened and learned.

We too must follow in the steps of our ancestors. We begin where we standing. We listen deeply to the Earth, and to the dreams that come to us from her body. Our dreams offer pathways through not-knowing.  We must listen and learn how to live lives that are in harmony with All that Is.

Photo by Gary Newman


1 For a history of the Battle of Blue Water Creek related from the perspective of the US government, soldiers and white settlers, see R. Eli Paul’s Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-1856, University of Oklahoma Press (2004).