By Sunrise Hart*
There is one known place on the American continent, in Glacier National Park, where three streams of water divide from a common mountain source and flow North, West, and East into the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. The mountain top from which the streams emerge is an almost perfect equilateral triangle whose apex points due North and whose waters bubble forth at the three angle points. The earliest records of the American Indians show that this spot has been their greatest Sacred Place from time far past.
Every natural Sacred Place has its guardians, and it has fallen to the lot of the Blackfoot Indians, as far back as their traditions go, to guard faithfully this Sacred Place. The vigil still goes on.
Just North of the triadic water source is situated another Sacred Place of our Indian brothers. It is also a mountain. Going to the Sun is the only possible translation of the name, and it is found on some topographical maps of the area. This mountain differs from all others in the Park. It has no glacial moraine, no geological faults, and its structure is different.
Having heard of the mountain from my Navaho friends, I seized the first opportunity to confirm or refute the old legends. To the casual tourist there is nothing there, to the casual inquirer of the Blackfoot there is also nothing there -- nothing but an impassive and stony countenance and perhaps a shake of the head. But from an Inspired One (erroneously translated "medicine man") came the following revelation:
It is a tradition of the Blackfoot, as handed down from generation to generation and held for safekeeping in the hands of our Inspired Ones, that far back in the dim past our ancestors were ruled by a God who came down from the Sun on the Mountain of the Three Waters. Our forefathers were known in those days as Children of the Sun. All was happiness, peace, and material comfort. Just as the stream that flows North represents the Great Unknown which is Everywhere (spiritual), that which flows West Vision (mind), and that which flows East (the world we live in); so did our people live at one with these teachings. Then came the "days of the clouds." Our people grew inactive, they fought amongst themselves, they failed to live "the Sun Life," they became immersed in that life represented by the waters of the stream that flows East, and neglected the waters of the other two streams.
Then the Sun-god led them to the North (Canada) and there my people lived in a muddy morass for many, many winters. The hunting was not good. The climate was colder. Food was not plentiful and our people were told by the Sun-god that they were suffering because they did not appreciate or live in harmony with the Spirit of the Three Waters, and that there they would stay until balance was restored.
Finally the Sun-god left them and traveled South and ascended the mountain which has been known ever since as Going to the Sun. He was seen no more. The last message given to my people by him was, "You will wallow in this mud until I return, and as a mark of your fall you shall never clean your moccasins, so that wherever you may go that will be a sign of your humiliation." Moccasin Black (Blackfoot) we have been called ever since and in our tribal rites we still wear the black and muddy moccasins.
Each year at Rose Moon Time (summer solstice) we go through our ancient rites; we watch the East side of Going to the Sun mountain, for when the Sun-god went home he left an image of himself on that side of the mountain. This image is to disappear when he returns, as promised. We were told that his return will occur at Rose Moon Time.
Our Knowing Ones also go to the Mountain of the Three Waters at Courtesy of the Southwest Museum, Los Angeles, California this time. They bathe their feet first in the stream that flows East, representing the cleansing of the physical. Then they pass to the stream that flows West and bathe their heads, this is to clear their obscured vision (mind). Finally they wash their chests in the waters that flow North, as a sign to the Great Unknown which is Everywhere (an appeal to the Spiritual). Then traveling North down into the Valley of the Night Sun (Moon) they ascend the mountain Going to the Sun.
There on that lonely peak and "drawn from the heart with vision, make inspiration" (thinking with heart and mind), they supplicate the Sun-god that he return.
"The Great Mystery together with the Great Unknown which is Everywhere fire builds inside" (illuminates) if this is done well.
The Inspired One continued on and on. Many of his idioms were but obscurely understood. The Indian languages are those of ideas, conveyed largely in allegorical form and without benefit of articles, adjectives, or adverbs. It requires imagination and a knowledge of Indian signs and ideographs to follow it, and I was rather rusty at all this. It could be gathered that the teachings handed down indicated that the North-flowing stream from the Mountain of the Three Waters, which now reaches the Arctic Ocean by way of the Saskatchewan River, formerly flowed along the river bed indicated by Great Slave Lake. Glacial sedimentary deposits long ago filled it up. The Eastflowing waters, which now reach the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Missouri River, formerly flowed into the ocean that occupied the area now covered by Lake Superior, or they flowed down the Valley of the St. Lawrence. Only the West-flowing waters have always remained the same. They pass by the Columbia River direct to the Pacific Ocean. The geological and glacial changes involved are known to science to have occurred at least 200,000 years ago and this indicates the great antiquity of the legend.
The closing words of the Inspired One are significant and they are given here as literally as possible. It was made clear that the Sun-god would not return until those who first had failed "below come, up go) many times, race even, long time" (reincarnate many times until finally the karmic load is balanced).
The sun was rising in the East as the Inspired One finished, and stepping outside he motioned to me to follow. The first golden rays of the rising sun tinged with a brilliant hue the snow-capped peak of Going-to-the-Sun mountain. There, sharply outlined in the snow, softened by this golden radiance and facing due East, was seen a gigantic profile of a human head. It was not an Indian head, but seemed to resemble one of that tribe in Central Africa who are from seven to eight feet tall and date back to the pre-Egyptian era. Their foreheads are high, they have long noses and pointed chins. The outline of the head is in deep bas-relief and at Rose Moon Time remains filled with snow, while all around it the snow has melted. This makes the head stand out sharply against the darker background.
Awestruck by the majesty and beauty of the scene and profoundly affected by what I had heard, I turned to my kindly Indian host and said in sign language: "Inspired One, question, white brother you, two hearts even race, can go inspired mountains" (Inspired One, your white brother thinks as you do. Could he go to the Sacred Mountains?).
Without a word, he turned and motioned me to follow. Horses were saddled, simple food placed in the saddle bags, and we were off. The old trail up the mountains is almost obliterated. Only an Indian could find it and only Indian ponies are sure-footed enough to stay on it. The last part of the ascent had to be made on foot.
On the Mountain of the Three Waters I bathed as my Indian brother had described. After descending due North into the Valley of the Night Sun, the ascent of Going to the Sun was made. First facing East, one was exalted by the magnificent spectacle of mountain peaks rising from the misty valleys. The material world is magnificent, sublime -- only man is wrong. Facing West, one was lost in silent contemplation. Then facing North, supplication was made to the Sun god to return to Earth and once more take charge of his sorely tried peoples of all races, who are blindly working out their destiny and, in spite of everything, slowly restoring the balance which they themselves disturbed so long ago.
Yes! The Great Mystery, together with the Great Unknown which is Everywhere does "build a fire inside" on that mountain. For it was Rose Moon Time.
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