Harriet Tubman’s gun

This week we were going to embark on a series of journeys about the four directions, but the subject became less and less resonant for me as the Black Lives Matter protests matured and grew into a worldwide and potent nonviolent movement over the course of the week.

The question of navigation was on my mind, how to find our way in the unfamiliar terrain of these times, which is indeed of vital importance. But Harriet Tubman, traveling without a compass or a map, found her way from the Maryland shore to Pennsylvania and later to New York and even Canada, as a conductor for the Underground Railroad. She guided more than 300 slaves to freedom without losing a single person on the journey.

Finding our way to the lands of liberation, as individuals and as a people, seems to be more a matter of fierce love and commitment than spatial orientation:

“I have heard their groans and sighs, and seen their tears, and I would give every drop of blood in my veins to free them.” –Harriet Tubman

Race brings up uncomfortable feelings in everyone, but especially in people with white bodies. And, frankly, we’re going to have to get over it. We’re going to have to learn to listen, hold, and tolerate the guilt, shame, and rage that awaits us on the path to freedom as a people.

Harriet Tubman carried a revolver as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Her gun wasn’t chiefly for protection from the slave owners who chased after them with dogs, but to convince those who wanted to turn back before they reached freedom to continue pressing forward. The journey of liberation is literally that frightening.  

As folks who can opt-out of the work of racial healing and reconciliation, who can be tempted to run when the work becomes deeply triggering and uncomfortable, we need to remember Harriet’s gun.

At this point in our collective journey, turning back is no longer an option.

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In this week’s circle, we will offer flowers to our common spiritual ancestor, and elder, Harriet Tubman.

As a young woman, Harriet had a two-pound metal weight thrown at her head, which cracked her skull. She suffered from narcolepsy and seizures ever after.

Part of how Tubman guided 300 former slaves without a compass, map, or losing a single soul, was due to the visions she had when she lapsed out of ordinary waking consciousness into one of her involuntary “sleeps.”

An excerpt from Dreaming True by Robert Moss:

Harriet’s biographies contain many detailed and convincing stories of how she used dreams to get slaves to freedom as a conductor. There is one episode, from November 1856, that is especially revealing.

Harriet had returned to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to bring out a group of four slaves that included Joe Bailey, a strong, handsome man who had been brutally flogged the day before. Bailey’s master was out to get him back. As she marched her party down a country road, Harriet’s head started to ache violently. She crumpled to her knees, and collapsed there, in plain view, into one of her…”sleeps.” Bailey had trouble convincing the other frightened slaves not to abandon her. 

When Harriet came round, she ordered the group to follow her along a completely unexpected course that seemed to be taking them deeper into the slave dominions.

They came to a river that looked far too deep to wade, and nobody could swim. Harriet insisted they must all go into the river; she was sure there was a place where the water was shallow enough to wade across.

Joe Bailey asked if she had crossed the river before. She told him she had crossed it in a dream, the dream she had just had when she fell asleep at the side of the road. Her dream had shown her that they could get across, and that crossing the river would mask their trail from the patrollers and bloodhounds who were homing in on them. She had seen a cabin on the other side where they would be given food and shelter.

Only Bailey followed her when she stepped into the icy river. The water was up above Harriet’s chin before the stream got shallower, but she found her ford. The others followed her, and they were greeted on the other side by a black family who sheltered them in their cabin. When Harriet led her group back the way they had come the next day, they found evidence that hunting parties had tracked them all the way down that country road; if they had followed their original route they would have been taken.”

Harriet Tubman is a spiritual elder for us in more ways than one. Together, let us journey to meet Harriet Tubman, to offer her our love and appreciation, listen to her guidance and counsel, and to learn what she wants from each of us at this moment of time.

Commit yourself to her cause, seek her blessing, and dare to walk with her all the way to freedom.

Gaia Shamanism’s free online journey circle will be held this Wednesday, June 10, at 4 pm PDT. Contact anna@gaiashamanism.com with your interest. All skill levels are welcome.

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