I discovered Mariee Sioux about 8 years ago when I was living in California. She was born in 1985 to a father of Polish and Hungarian heritage and a mother of Spanish and mixed Native American descent. The internet has little more than that to say about her, but really, her music is the point, anyway. Here’s what I have to say about Sioux’s musical offerings; I have never encountered such rich, mostly nature-based, poetry from a song writer (with the exception of some of Vienna Teng’s songs). True to the classical poetic imperative, all the songs I have heard are goshdarn symbolic, though I would hate to scare anyone off with that assessment.
For even if the symbolism comes thick and fast, it’s my belief that Sioux has cooked up a musical style that pairs so well with her objective, lots of listeners will be hypnotized into receiving the healing she offers. And just as you probably don’t know anything about why the acupuncturist stuck a needle in your wrist and stopped your back pain (no, I don’t know if that would really work but, I’m waxing theoretical here), a listener might be very surprised to find themselves going deeper, and deeper, into an internal space where words don’t matter anyway. The powerful images Sioux communicates through language, rhythm, and melody somehow sink into our skin, and magic happens.
In the case of the song I’m going to feature, the magic is this; connection with healing power in the form of understanding and remembering the sacred nature of our human experience. Sioux’s style, in the songs I like best, is unique. Firstly, she eschews the 3 minute audio track. After all, if you’re going to be bathed, showered, in sacred healing energies, 3 minutes is hardly enough. Bundles, my focus here, is almost 10 minutes long. Think of it as a meditation, best enjoyed when you are still not-of-this-world in the morning, or maybe when your day’s work is done, and you want to move on to a different level of consciousness; to stillness and soulcentric unity.
Another feature of Sioux’s style (perhaps it’s partly her producer/arranger; I am going to purchase a CD and/or LP so I can get some liner notes) is a droning beat and the short repetitive melody lines common in some traditional music. This droning element serves the same as a mantra, and is common enough in Native American music, if I know anything at all about the subject. This repetition helps to engage the intellectual mind away from its wanderings, among other possible effects. It grounds the listener. However, Sioux balances this repetition out wonderfully with little vocal flights of melody, surprising bits that break up the repetition. Her voice is otherworldly, I suppose because it is breathy, mostly emotionless, and often makes octave jumps, like a little bird that’s taking off from a branch.Those flights also balance out the driving rhythm of her guitar and other instruments (in the case of the recorded song Bundles). She jumps high because she is so grounded.
And here it is:
I can’t possibly explore all of Sioux’s poetry here. One of the features of poetry is that poetry’s a shorthand, the picture that says 1,000 words. I will look at a few verses, starting with the premise; a human being as a medicine bundle.
Oh, pick me up I’m this bundle of sticks
Tied with the stems of clover and brambles
Oh, pick me up I’m this bundle
Wrapped in shrouds of muscle
And patched with cedars and shadows
Patched for a million miles
A medicine bundle is a little package (or maybe not so little in some cases) of objects that represent some sacred purpose. The word “medicine” comes in because that is the nature of healing; alignment with our sacred ways of being, our holier, higher purposes for incarnation. There is a ton of variation on the theme, and it is not by any means a strictly Native American concept; in fact, it is universal. I discovered that my son, who is about to enter the Episcopalian priesthood, also carries a medicine bundle of sacred objects in support of his ritual ministrations. It’s in a pouch. Same thing. A Native American version:
and here is a priest’s version, for sick calls and perhaps death beds
though that’s a very fancy one. My son had just a little cloth bag with a few things he snagged from the church supplies. Medicine bundles/bags can be for one’s personal use, or for conducting healing rituals for and with others. It’s a pretty wide subject, really.
Sioux calls herself specifically a “bundle of sticks”. In this she likely harks to another universal symbol; human as tree. Perhaps the bundle of sticks could be our bones, but no need to get literal about it. Being tied with clover and bramble is symbolic of humanity’s duality experience, a sacred opportunity indeed. For clover represents good luck, that which we wish for; brambles are suffering and attachment.
I absolutely love “shrouds of muscle”. I assume she’s referring to the way in which the flesh covers the spirit-being, though that flesh would be unseen from other dimensions and only the light-being evident. Somehow the incarnate experience will always be a covering for the “life eternal”. Which is probably what she means by “a million miles”, too; the eternal experience, that which is immeasurable. “Patched” would mean made up of different pieces, and she makes the duality point again with “cedars and shadows”. For cedar is for Native Americans and others a very cleansing and therefore light-filled tree, in contrast with the shadows of suffering and attachment, the brambles.
If you’ve had enough interpretation, go ahead, you have my blessing, go to that which is important to you. Thanks for listening. I know your time is precious. I’m going to do 2 more verses, though. Listen to Mariee on Bandcamp: click here for link…
The next verse I’ll look at is the old sacrificial scene: Odin hanging on the tree, Jesus hanging on the cross, the tarot’s Hanged Man:
I’m eating my own hide to hide in my own skin
Till I am left a-hanging
Upside down and draining
Like skinned does a-dangling
From a hunter’s oak limb
Like my sisters, those does, woven in red shrouds
Wearing bare ribbons of tightly wrapped muscles
And bearing the burden of being that gift from the forest
That turns humans wooden when opened
“Eating my hide” would be removing the outer layer of personality, and exposing “my own skin”, the truer self. “Draining” is the letting go that characterizes these inner human experiences of sacrifice. I want to point out that the word ‘sacrifice’ is based on the word ‘sacred’. Sioux identifies with a doe in this scenario, and indeed, the old (and also the current) naturecentric ways view the death of the hunted in a universal way. Death itself is a principle, the principle of letting go. The slaughtered doe is letting go her life in order to be reborn– as the one who eats her! That is why this death of the hunted doe is a sacred event. For the Earthling, whether worm or human, tree or deer, feeds upon the flesh of another, whether that flesh be animal or vegetable. Whatever is consumed, is transformed. It is the greatest of Earthly mysteries.
The doe wears red ribbons- red being not only the color of suffering, of wounding, but also of life itself, since blood is life, and blood is red. Ribbons are traditionally worn for special ceremonies, for sacred occasions. Ribbons or strips of cloth are another universal- the prayer flags of Tibet, or the clootie trees of Europe, above (click for link). The flag or bit of cloth is an offering or physical representation of some prayer, of some intent, of some grateful affirmation, of a plea for healing or a confirmation of healing’s manifestation.
Beautiful also are the words “bearing that burden of being the gift from the forest”. Indeed there is a burden involved in sacrifice. For sacrificing the old involves a certain amount of moving deeper, of halting and maybe retrograde action, of experiencing that which lies beneath, that which has been keeping us in illusions of security, and of letting these go. It’s a paradox, for we must experience life as a burden somehow in order to let go of our shackles. In the old symbology the deer, as is the case with the rabbit and mouse and other prey animals, enjoys a life of, well, grazing, as opposed to the stressful high-end requirement of learning to hunt, the predator’s prerogative. The difference between the far Northern cultures’ need to hunt, and that of the primarily agricultural cultures, is significant.
Point to the inner sacrificial paradigm is that, whatever our burdens may be, if we don’t go deeply enough to experience it, we can’t release it. Yet at the same time, the death of our old self-aspects allows us to be a gift to our future self, to the future of the world, to Creation Itself , which loves transformation. Our old way of being is consumed, broken down, and thus reused, repurposed, the alchemical rubedo-to-albedo event.
The last verse I want to mention goes well with Miller’s art, above, for it is a set of simple philosophical riddles (Odin was known as a riddler). Traditional wisdom lore is full of riddles; in my Euro-Western culture we have imported the idea of the koan from the Japanese. However, riddles are rife in European story of the symbolic sort. For example, the well known English ballad Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme poses riddles; make me a shirt sewn with no seams or needlework, find me an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand.
In that wisdom teaching tradition, Sioux asks us to go beyond the rational mind and its assumptions that it knows what’s right, that it knows much of anything at all. This “small mind” aspect of our experience is essential, but it’s also very limited. It can’t answer the big questions:
So can you, can you, can you tell me?
If it’s easier to be emptier but lighter
If it’s easier to be the lantern or the fire
If it’s easier to be a lover or an echo
If it’s easier to be the bull or the fighter
And if it’s easier to die by arrows or by tigers
If it’s easier to fly by monarchs or by sparrows
By monarchs or by sparrows
Let me know
The “lover or an echo” is, I assume, a reference to the story of Echo and Narcissus (I will let that lie there). Her use of the word “easier” is easy to miss, but it’s actually pointing out that the intellectual mind is oriented towards figuring out what is easier, I assume. Also, the pairings of monarchs and sparrows, fire and lantern, etc., are revealed through contemplation to be indivisible, in truth. Like the hunter and the hunted, these pairings are not really composed of separate events or things. You cannot have the one without the other.
By the way, I was tricked at first into thinking that “monarchs” referred to butterflies; firstly because she uses so much nature imagery, and second, because a butterfly is winged, like the sparrow, and she says “fly by”. This is the sort of automatic association the intellectual mind excels at. However, her repetition of this line gave me pause, and I realized; of course it’s not a butterfly, it is a king or queen monarch. For the opposite of the king is the sparrow or some other tiny brown bird, in old European symbolism. Is it easier to be the monarch or the wren? Like the monarch and the Fool, the two are inseparable. Without the humble to rule over, those who would submit to rule, there are no monarchs, for one thing. When one develops a certain level of wisdom, one realizes that we are all both. For we must learn to be monarch of ourselves, while retaining the ability to be that which is just the smallest part of The Whole. This is the human challenge in a nutshell. To “fly by” in this instance would mean one’s mode of transportation. Is it easier to get around in the world by being the powerful monarch, or by being the humble nobody?
I hope I have not assumed falsely on this interpretation, of course, for I have great respect for this high poetic sacred art of Sioux’s. Her invitation to us (So can you tell me?) to engage with her inner journey into wisdom is touching in the extreme, to a wisdom seeker like myself. Sioux carries on the tradition of poet and bard as wise teacher. And so yes, Mariee, here I have let you know. About some of these questions you present, I can tell you. Thank you for the teaching and its healing.