“The wisdom of the past is the seed of the future,” says Scott Sheerin, local volunteer and event coordinator for the Sacred Fire Foundation, a nonprofit that works to preserve and promote indigenous wisdom traditions around the globe and in the Asheville area.
On Saturday, May 21, the group will host elders Wanbdi Wakita and Diane Longboat for a special event, Voices of Wisdom. The program will be held at the Council House, a fireside gathering spot near Weaverville.
Wakita, a Dakota elder in his 70s from Sioux Valley, brings his experience as a wicasa wakan, or holy man, and three decades of work imparting traditional indigenous wisdom to men in prisons. He also oversees the Sundance ceremony as Sundance chief.
Longboat, a Mohawk elder from Six Nations Grand River Territory, will be joining him. She leads Soul of the Mother, a nonprofit designed to share indigenous teachings, rites and ceremonies with First World Nations and those yearning for a deeper connection to the Creator.
“They are the living embodiment of traditions that have lived connected to the world for thousands of years,” says Sheerin. “They are precious beacons. We do events like Voices of Wisdom to bring people like [them] to [our] community hearths.”
Last year, Sacred Fire initiated the Voices program as a shorter version of Ancient Wisdom Rising, a two–day regional event that pairs open ears with indigenous elders willing to share their perspectives.
Ancient wisdom, says Sheerin, includes the ideas, viewpoints, ways of life and beliefs that the people of indigenous cultures value and live by. The foundation aims to preserve the knowledge systems that have kept these cultures “deeply connected and in a relationship with all of life for hundreds of thousands of years,” he says.
Sacred Fire hosts gatherings and open dialogues with elders from various traditions; awards grants to initiatives that protect and promote indigenous lands, worldviews and languages; and confers awards for lifetime achievements to elders.
In Asheville, a local chapter of the Sacred Fire Community, the foundation’s sister organization, has been gathering once a month for the last 15 years around a fire in the Council House, an octagonal structure set on an idyllic knoll just north of town in Weaverville.
The Asheville chapter is just one of 80 affiliated communities around the world. In North Carolina alone there are five — in Greensboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsboro, Maggie Valley and Asheville. Sheerin suggests that the staying power and presence of the community speaks to its importance and value in people’s lives today — people who have iPhones, cars, jobs and more things to do than time to do them.
Why fire? Sheerin says that in almost every wisdom or religious tradition, the element of fire is present and sometimes central.
“The idea is to reintroduce the very ancient practice of sitting in circle by a fire, talking and listening,” he says. There is no one philosophy or agenda, Sheerin emphasizes. “It’s about learning how to listen to the heart, and fire is the energy of heart.”
On Saturday, Wakita and Longboat will speak in turn, with a short break in between and a potlock dinner afterward, he explains. There is no set agenda or topic, says Sheerin; instead, the elders will offer the wisdom needed in that moment.
“There’s always humility, there’s always humor, and there’s always a real-time connection to the divine,” he says of the elders.
For those wishing for more, a Sunday sunset gathering will be offered for reflection and discussion.
“On Saturday you get a … sense of the energy of the elders and their perspectives,” Sheerin says. “On Sunday we don’t gather until around sunset for the fire. So people come back to the fire after 24 hours of sitting with what may have been stirred in them.”
The two visiting elders won’t be part of the Sunday event, he notes. Instead, the additional program provides an opportunity for participants to talk as a community and ultimately bring the wisdom of such elders home, says Sheerin.
He adds, “It’s very natural that being around a fire is a practice of being in connection, in a connected state with the world.”
WHAT: Voices of Wisdom
WHERE: Sacred Fire Council House, 90 Rocky Hollow Rd., Weaverville
WHEN: Saturday, May 21, noon to 8 p.m., including potluck dinner, and
Sunday, May 22, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
CONTACT: Scott Sheerin, 645-1003 or firstname.lastname@example.org
REGISTER: Pre-registration required. www.sacredfirefoundation.org