Air and Water


Water is a very powerful medicine. We refer to it as the blood of the holy sacred mother, Mother Earth. This can make a flower beautiful, make a tree grow tall, make each and every person spiritual, holy, sacred. You are all of these things to begin with, when you are born. How did this come about? For nine months, each of us dwelled in darkness, in the fluid of the womb, a miniature human being, until it was time to leave the safety of the female, and the dam broke, and you saw light. Then you had to learn to breathe, and you had to learn to feed yourself. We refer to this water as the feminine power. It’s how we use it that’s important: in the sweat lodge, for example, when you pour it on the stones.

We talk about the Great Mystery. My grandchildren, you’re the great mystery. What do you know about yourselves? Are you willing to accept that scar that proves to you that a woman carried you for nine months? When I had to do that, at first it was very uncomfortable. But finally I realized that that’s why I’m here: because of the feminine.

Do we ever stop to think about the Mother? For years, I used to really hate my mother, because she wouldn’t let me participate in our traditions, the traditions of the Akimel O’odham people. What I didn’t realize was that she had a very tough life. Her mother died when she was very young, so her father took her out of school to take care of her brothers and sisters. She went into organized religion and became kind of fanatical about it. She forbade me to get involved in the traditional ways. My dad was higher educated, so he had two worlds. As a young lad he grew up in the desert in Arizona. He talked about the natural way, and then would turn right around and say, “That way is no good.” But how can that be, when that way, the natural way, took care of my people for thousands of years? We migrated out of Mexico, using this natural way. My dad talked to me about this! I was really confused, then, when I was young. My parents wanted me to go to school and to go to church. I had to do these things. This feminine power was never in my mind, or never pointed out.

You might not be using your medicine in a good way. I used to do that. I’d take air for granted, until the air was really bad and I would have to run outside and take big gulps of good air and then forget about it. There’s so much that comes from this simple and very powerful medicine, air. You need it for this thing they call a brain. And you have to use the water. It rains, goes into the tree roots, and the trees keep that water so we can use this medicine. Those are our relatives, the tree nation.

People call the natural way the “old way.” How can it be old when we still use it? You keep it alive. You give it life just like in the sweat lodge, when we give the ceremony life. When you go in the sweat lodge, you go back into the womb of the Mother Earth. Using darkness and light. Using air and water. In order to become stronger, learn to accept Mother Earth. She’s not going to leave you; she’s always going to be around. All those times we walk out crying, we’re lonely; we don’t know what to do. We walk right on Mother Earth, not acknowledging her presence. We are literally sucking on her breast, this woman, until the day we die.
One of my teachers pointed out something to me that was very hard to accept. He said, “Your life’s not planned; it never will be.

It’s what you do with it. You have everything there to make it the way you want it.” Of course, you have to live in this day and age, in this push-button society. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t get obsessed with it; always come back to yourself. Accept who you are. You’re part of creation. You live and breathe, just like the eagle. You use air and water, just like the deer. They’re our relatives: the tree people, the stone people.

My drum is the unity of two very powerful nations: the four-legged nation and the tree nation. This unity creates a very powerful symbol. Today is good day. If it’s a little cloudy it’s still a good day because I choose how to use the day. If it rains, I still choose how to use that. Every one of you has that ability to make a good life. You have everything! The core is air and water. The very core of everything is air and water.

I’m not the message. I’m just the messenger. And so I give this to you. You can be the messenger, in how you walk on Mother Earth, how you accept yourself. When good energy comes out of you, young kids like to be around you; animals like to be around you. Then you learn how to talk to the planet from the heart: that heart language, that spirit language. Mother Earth will listen.

Rod McAfee (Akimel O’odham) is a Pima Elder from Arizona. He has led ceremonies for Native prison inmates in Oregon and Washington and is a former drug and alcohol counselor for the Native American Rehabilitation Association. He is also the chair of the advisory board for the Earth and Spirit Council in Portland, Oregon, where he gave the talk from which this article is adapted. For more information, go to the website for Earth and Spirit Council at

CSQ Disclaimer

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.

CSQ Issue: