Rolling Thunder and Beautiful Painted Arrow: Two Native American Shaman Elders Whose Lives and Work Inspire Me

by | Mar 7, 2017 | Article, Eagle Feather Recipients, Indigenous Teachings

I first became aware of Rolling Thunder in the late 1970’s when I read Doug Boyd’s book called simply, Rolling Thunder. Although I was never to meet him personally, I was fascinated by this powerful healer who demonstrated extraordinary abilities and skills, especially with weather patterns. He was definitely a controversial figure. He became well known and was associated with the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller, Mohammed Ali, Stanley Krippner and a host of well known people, such was his notoriety and fame at the time. According to Rolling Thunder and his community, the series of films about Billy Jack were loosely based on his life and experiences, and he had cameos in three of them.

The most recently written book about him, The Shamanic Powers of Rolling Thunder, edited by Sidian Morning Star Jones and Stanley Krippner Ph.D, is a companion book to an earlier one, also co-authored by Stanley Krippner, The Voice of Rolling Thunder. I had not been aware of that book until The Shamanic Powers crossed my desk. These books document Rolling Thunder’s widespread influence and tell anecdotes about him by people who studied with him, met him, or were powerfully influenced by him.

When I first began to read The Shamanic Powers of Rolling Thunder I was somewhat concerned when I heard it was a follow up book. I thought perhaps I was getting the leftovers, a book cobbled together with whatever did not fit into the first one. Yet as I read, I found that this was fortunately not so. This book certainly stands on it’s own and is a fascinating peek told through many eyes and ears, of one of the more interesting shamanic figures of the late 1900’s. The book is divided into sections focusing on his powers with thunder storms, healings, people he influenced or who influenced him, encounters people had with him, and finally Meta Tantay, his community in Carlin Nevada where he spent his final years. Rolling Thunder passed away in 1997.

Through this book we get to know Rolling Thunder the famous medicine man, the teacher, the spiritual leader, the healer, the political activist, the controversial character, and the ordinary human being through anecdotes and stories and indirectly we are presented little by little with a comprehensive profile of his life. The approach here is not really a biography presented in linear fashion and that is just fine. Because there are many authors here, some of the writings stray a bit from the main topic but again, this does not detract from the overall book.

Rolling Thunder was born John Pope of a white mother and according to him, a Native American father, but basically he lived as a native man and married native women, the last of whom was Spotted Fawn, a woman who was to have major influence in his life. When she passed his health went into decline. Rolling Thunder stated that he was part Cherokee and part Shoshone but followed a path of not registering himself as Native American as a protest to the fact that native people should register at all. This caused him much grief in that questions about this legitimacy as a Native American teacher followed him around for the rest of his life. Rolling Thunder on the other hand was one who embraced all peoples and felt that the wisdom of his teachings should be available to everyone. Such were the challenges Rolling Thunder faced throughout his life.

Of his powers with thunder and lightening and rain there is little doubt. There are numerous independent stories of a great many occasions when on a clear day, thunder clouds appeared suddenly and produced dramatic storms associated with his presence or his healings. He never considered these tempests or signs from the sky as miracles because he felt they all follow the natural laws of the universe. Sometimes the storms he called up in response to skeptics could be over the top and caused severe flooding and the like so it may be that at times he could be provoked into reacting from a place of ego.

As a teacher he could be kind and patient with people and was always consistent in his teachings about the web of life and the interconnectivity of everything. Like a good medicine person he demonstrated the gift of seeing into people’s hearts and knowing what they needed. This in turn made him an excellent healer and herbalist. However perhaps more people knew him for his activist speeches that took him all over the United States and even to Europe on several occasions. In Germany he was quite a star. He did not hesitate to expound on the treatment of the Native Americans at the hands of the United States Government, the broken treaties, the Trail of Tears, the relocations, the attempts to wipe out their culture through enforced boarding schools and foster homes, the prohibitions against using their own languages and holding their own religious ceremonies. He also did not back down from his attempts to remind people that their lifestyles were leading to environmental disaster as predicted by Native American prophecy, that it could be averted with new choices.

Since his death many continue to see him as a powerful Native American medicine man, healer, ceremonialist, spokes person for Native Americans, and miracle worker. However, whenever someone demonstrates supernatural powers it seems they are in for much skepticism and attack by both media people and by those that may be jealous of their abilities or their spreading fame. During his life he received much criticism from media people who had difficulty believing he could alter the weather at will. This is perhaps the fate of most people who live outside the box and do not conform to the cultures expectations of what is normal.

I would recommend The Shamanic Powers of Rolling Thunder to anyone who has an interest in home grown medicine men and women who have demonstrated outstanding shamanic powers. He joins a short list of those American historical figures who were genuine shamanic miracle workers. The book is for the most part well written and quite entertaining, offering different perspectives about a controversial man who made his mark through his healing work, his social activism, and his way of making thunder roll for people even beyond the grave.

I first came across Joseph Rael’s writings perhaps fifteen years ago and was instantly taken with what he had to say. Here was a Native American man, also known also as Beautiful Painted Arrow, who was a living mystic and definitely teaching ways that I have never heard from any other Native American Teacher. It was not until very recently that I had the privilege of meeting him in person and he lived up to his reputation as a humble and yet master teacher. He has an interesting mixture of a soft spoken Native American and a quite erudite well read university professor, a true scholar. He is a prolific writer, I counted ten books on Amazon, and an avid artist/painter. At his second home in Colorado I had the privilege of seeing many of his original paintings.

Rael is half Picuris Pueblo Indian, a Tiwa speaking culture in northern New Mexico, and half Ute whose reservation is mostly in southern Colorado where he currently lives part time.

At approximately 82 he is clearly an elder and is still in heavy demand as a speaker and presenter all over the world. His travel schedule is daunting for a man his age. Interestingly Joseph shares some similar life story experiences with Rolling Thunder. Both have taken some criticism for teaching non-Native American peoples in various countries of the world. However from my understanding Joseph Rael’s teachings are so unique that he is not particularly teaching traditional Native American secrets or ceremonies to outsiders, but rather he is teaching what has inspired him. He is teaching outsiders things that no other Native Americans teach. An example of this is his building of sound temples of vibration all over the world for people to both meditate and dance in.

His book The Way of Inspiration is a good illustration of how he teaches. Rael is clearly an older soul so all the teachings are straight to the point, well organized, and simple in presentation, although this does not mean that the material is easy to understand or grasp. The reason for this is that Rael is translating concepts from the Tiwa language into English and this is challenging given the differences in the languages. According to Rael Tiwa is a language of verbs and English is a language of nouns. When a person says in English “It is windy, the Tiwa language would not have a translation for “it.” “What it?” they would ask. They would more likely say, “Winding is happening.” And if an English speaker says, “The coat is in the car,” the Tiwa speaker would say “the coating is in the carring.” In Tiwa everything is happening. In English life is more static. So you can sense the challenging when translating concepts in a happening language to a static language. Nevertheless he takes this challenge on successfully.

Rael is interested in the deeper meaning of our experiences in life. In another book of his that I read some years ago, Being and Vibration, he goes into the deeper symbolic meaning of the vowel sounds and shapes of ordinary objects we use every day. He thus is able to translate what we are symbolically saying when we articulate words or use objects of different shapes. What we are actually saying and what we seem to be saying may be two different things. On the other hand sometimes when we say something, even in English, the sounds we are making mean exactly what the word means. For example, if we say the word “calm,” the aahhh sound actually means purification and has that affect upon the person, to purify them. Thus purifying has a calming affect on them.

In The Way of Inspiration Joseph Rael focuses on the ten steps to Inspiration and by understanding the meaning of the vowel sounds in Tiwa numbers from one to ten, he is able to understand the process of how material forms manifest from inspiration. In other words he is saying that inspiration is not some very simple one word concept about making people feel more creative. He is saying that inspiration actually moves through a person in different ways and helps a person to manifest reality itself. Thus he is pointing to how important and fundamental inspiration is to creation itself. We cannot create anything without inspiration.

This relatively short, hundred-and-eight-page book is so packed with information of this sort that is almost impossible to do it justice in this short review. Let us just say that if you have an interest in the underlying way things work, you will find this an utterly fascinating book that will open your eyes to many things. On the other hand if you are looking for a good escape novel and you don’t really want to think about things then you will find the book tedious and sleep inducing.

The book is a teaching about how inspiration is occurring and how the higher mind or Sky Father interacts with the human mind in the process of evolution. What he is saying throughout the book is that inspiration is a product of the Sky Father, it comes from outside of us and influences us by surrounding us and coming inside us through the sense organs to stimulate a whole series of processes. He states that we don’t make inspiration but that it makes us what we then become. It touches our brains, it helps us grasp ideas, it assists us to review our knowledge base, it prepares us for learning, stimulates us to manifest and so on. In other words there are many steps to how inspiration influences us, and he goes into these steps in considerable detail, drawing his ideas from the Tiwa language.

I found this short book on inspiration to be as intriguing and surprising as Being and Vibration. He does not write what you expect him to say, rather it is quite the alternative. Reading this book offers an interesting insight into a native American mystic’s mind as well as the way a Tiwa speaker thinks.

Recommended Reading:

The Shamanic Powers of Rolling Thunder, edited by Sidian Morning Star Jones and Stanley Krippner Ph.D. Bear and Company, Rochester, Vermont, 2016

The Way of Inspiration: The Teachings of Native American Elder Joseph Rael, by Joseph Rael, 1996, publisher unknown. Available online.

About the Author

José Stevens PhD is an international lecturer, corporate team builder and organizational coach, consultant and trainer. A psychologist, licensed clinical social worker and author of more than twenty books and numerous articles, he is also co-editor for the Journal of Shamanic Practitioners and a board member. He is the founder, with his wife Lena, of the Power Path School of Shamanism and The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating youth in indigenous cultures. He has completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol Maracame in Mexico and has studied with the Shipibos of the Amazon and the Paqos of the Andes for the last thirty years. Jose is a board member of The Society for Shamanic Practice.

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