Praying for the Occaneechi, and others

During my travels in 2022, there were several friends in North Carolina I wanted to visit. One is named Erin. We had met at grad school in Oakland, California about twenty years ago and bonded over finding out both of us had had significant dreams about owls. In addition, both of us had decided to enroll in the remarkable program called Indigenous Mind, created and taught by Dr. Apela Colorado.

While traveling, I often do research along the way. In North Carolina, I discovered there had been a massacre of the Occaneechi, a tribe who lived along the Roanoke River that straddles the boundary of what is now known as North Carolina and Virginia. At one point during my visit, I asked Erin if she was interested in doing a prayer ritual with me for the Occaneechi. Having done so many of these rituals by myself, I had hoped she would say yes, but I was not expecting the enthusiastic yes I received. It seems recently she had serendipitously met some Occaneechi folks as they were finishing a ceremony. Erin, at that time, “just happened” to be wearing traditional Celtic attire from a class she had just taught. Both parties wearing traditional clothing opened the door to a heartfelt conversation. This was why Erin was particularly grateful to have a chance to pray for these people.

We both researched as much as we could before we left her home, but there was not a lot of information available. We did know that one infamous man by the name of Nathaniel Bacon led a large militia to “ruin and extirpate all Indians in general.” And sadly, the Occaneechi suffered the consequences. One estimate reports that nearly 200 men, women, and children were killed in 1676.

We knew that the massacre had occurred on Occaneechi Island, but learned the island no longer existed, having been flooded over many years ago. But apparently, at one time, it was close to Clarksville, Virginia. And so we set out for the Roanoke River near Clarksville to look for a place on the riverbanks to pray. Sometimes there are historical markers indicating where massacres have happened (i.e., Wounded Knee or the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado). Other times, we need to use our intuition to find the right place to offer prayers. This was one of those times. When we got to the river, we could see it from the road, but there was a long line of private homes along that stretch of river and we could find no access point. Fortuanately, we saw a woman walking her dog and rolled down our window to ask if she knew of any place where we could actually get to the river. She directed us to a bridge that would take us to a park. When we arrived at the park, we went down several roads looking for access points to the river. After viewing several that felt too exposed to people, or too close to a concrete bridge, we finally found one that we deemed “good enough.”

Although Erin and I had been in classes together, listened to elders together, and been taken by our teacher to sacred sites, we had never done a ritual together, just the two of us. But we worked well together, comfortably alternating between making offerings, invoking the Holy Ones and the Helpers, singing songs, praying, etc. I had told Erin that some time ago I had learned that those who were killed suddenly and unexpectedly often “got stuck” in denser planes close to the earth. I had been taught that sometimes these spirits need help ascending into the higher realms where they could be free, in a place of light and love and healing. So, our primary goal that day was to honor the spirits of those who once lived there, and to assist the dead in moving into the Light.

At one point, after prayers and songs and supplications, I felt that we had accomplished our task. I brought our ceremony to a close. Afterwards, I said to Erin, “I hope that wasn’t too fast. It felt complete to me.” She assured me that she’d also felt complete. Then she shared something that stunned me. After I had asked the Helpers to assist the spirits in moving on, Erin heard the spirits of the white militiamen ask if they could go, too! She told me she said “Sure.” I told her I was so glad.

This was a huge learning for me. I have a strong connection with the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America) and in all the accounts of massacres I’ve read about, that’s where my loyalties and sympathies lie. I’m somewhat embarrassed to confess I never even thought about helping the spirits of the white men move on. But now I understand that ALL spirits need to ascend. Any healing which happens on an individual level helps the entire collective. It is important for all of humanity to ascend, for all of us to learn and to evolve.

So, bless the spirits of the Occaneechi and all the indigenous people who died prematurely from disease and violence. Bless, too, the perpetrators of their deaths. May they be wiser and kinder souls in their next lifetime.

As the Tibetan Buddhists say: May all beings be well and happy. May all beings abide in peace.

(For reflections on the Afterlife, please see the blog post called “My Understanding of the Afterlife.” )

About the Author

Cynthia Greb

Cynthia Greb is a writer, Nature lover, Dreamer, interfaith minister, and occasional artist. She has a great love for this beautiful planet and a deep connection to the ancient people who once lived so respectfully upon this Earth.
You can find her on Facebook, on YouTube, and occasionally on Instagram.

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