Myth of the Red Moccasins
There was a beautiful Dakota maiden having lived sixteen cycles of the earth at her mother’s side, for sixteen of those cycles she walked barefoot feeling the movement of the earth below her and laughing at the meadow when it called her name.
On the first morning of the new cycle the maiden awoke to her mother’s voice. “Daughter of the Dakota arise from your sleep, you must set out on a journey of great importance.” The maiden did not understand what her mother was speaking of and quickly arose from her bed. Her mother continued, “Daughter you must set out towards the River of Life, there you will need to fetch water for our people that they may remain a strong people and continue to prosper throughout the ages. I will give you instructions; first you must follow the South Wind as she will be your guide and keep you on the right path to the river. You must be cautious of the other three winds for they will try to pull you to their direction and should you follow you will be lost, never returning to your tribe and family. When you get to the River of Life you must gather as much water as you can carry and follow your footsteps back to the Dakota people.”
So with the instructions now in her heart, her mother gave her a leather purse filled with food enough to nourish her on the journey towards the river. The young maiden at first was frightened as she set out to complete the task her mother had given her but the South Wind was so soft and comforting that it quickly calmed her fears. Soon she was feeling the freedom of self-discovery and the warmth of the earth beneath her feet.
As the moon placed her face in the sky that first night the young maiden made a bed of leaves and twigs next to a cave like rock and started off to sleep. Within an hour of falling into a dream she could hear a voice calling out to her, “Daughter, Daughter of the Dakota why nestle yourself to a rock when here I have for you comforts and great gifts, here just to the east of your bed sits the great forest. It is within the arms of the forest you will find everything you need and want, ever abundant and ever filled with mystery and magic.”
At that the maiden heard a long loud howl of a wolf becoming frightened and wanting to run to the east towards the great forest and hide in its welcoming arms. But she suddenly remembered her mother’s words, “be cautious of the other three winds for they will try to pull you to their direction and should you follow you will be lost”, she laid her head back on her bed, closed her eyes and fell back asleep.
The next morning she woke giving thanks to the Great Spirit and taking food from her leather purse she ate to have the nourishment she would need for the day’s journey. The second day the sun was warm and filled the whole sky bright allowing the eye to see for miles in every direction, but she was staying true to the course she was instructed to take, marking her footsteps so she could easily find her way back to her family and her people. Then along about midday when the sun was at its highest she heard the screeching of an eagle. He soon swept down right in front of her veering out towards the west, her eye following his movements of beauty and grace. As she raised her head to keep his path in sight her eye became fixed on the most beautiful site she had ever seen, it was a snow capped mountain range of magnificent proportions radiating in green to white to blue in the noon sky. It was as if she could hear the winds from the highest peaks singing to her, “Daughter of the Dakota come, come sit with me. Come let your feet climb my majestic paths, higher and higher I can take you and you can become one with the sky and with the sun. Leave your journey and step west towards my beauty and my wonder.”
The maiden raised her foot to veer west when she again heard the screech of the mighty eagle stunning her to her senses and reminding her that she would be taken away from her destiny of bringing the Water of Life back to her people if she took that step. So she took a step but to the south and continued on her path.
On the second night the South Wind guided her to a creek side so she could eat and drink refreshing herself for the next day’s travels. There too was provided an abandoned fox den that would give her shelter for the night. Unaware of the dangers around her, she sat up late by the creek admiring the southern sky, when a fierce chill came from behind her to the point that movement was almost impossible. The North Wind had made his presence known and was requiring her attention. “Daughter, My Daughter of the Dakota you belong to me and I will have you even should I have to take your breath and still your body. Come to me now that you may live with me, I will dress you in white and crystals and you will be my bride.”
The maiden could not move, and everything around her was turning to ice. Snow began falling around her when the South Wind heard her cry out, “Someone, please hear me and save me from such cold fate.” The South Wind blew and sent warmth enough for the maiden to pull herself into the den for shelter and build a fire to unthaw herself. That night she dreamt of water against a red sunset and an Indian Woman dressed in white buckskin.
Now came the last day of her journey and she could sense and hear the sounds of running water while the image of the Indian Woman stayed with her throughout the day. She was soon close to the sound of the river and knowing it must be in front of her she could not see it. Coming closer still she saw that the River of Life was banked for miles with thick thickets of brush and thorn. As she took her first step she realized she could not continue because her bare feet had nothing to protect them from being cut to shreds. The young maiden was tired and weary for she had walked all this way and now her journey would be unfulfilled if she could not get to the river and bring back the Water of Life to the Dakota people and she wept and wept.
Then with the sense of a hand to her shoulder, she raised her head and looked up and there stood the Indian Woman dressed in white as she was in her dream. “Daughter, Daughter of the Dakota do not weep, do not be discouraged for you have everything you need to pass through the thicket and obtain the sacred waters. There your purse, the purse your mother ensured you carry, take it, cut it and sew yourself a fine pair of moccasins that will protect your feet from the thorns. Do this and you will be protected from any further harm.” Then the Indian Woman was gone, leaving behind six empty gourds and a knife.
With renewed spirit the maiden quickly began working on constructing the moccasins for her feet cutting the leather purse equally for each foot and leaving enough leather string to tie all the gourds together that she may gather the water and carry it home. She worked all night cutting and sewing the moccasins, ate what was left of her food, put the new moccasins on her feet and fell fast asleep. Again she dreamt of the Indian Woman in white, who blessed her in the dream and took her to view a meadow where children were playing and laughing and calling out to their mother. Her heart rested well that night.
In the morning she arose, placed the gourds tied together around her shoulders and headed through the thicket of thorns. It seemed to be hours of slow progress that was bringing her to exhaustion when she could feel the water, the spray of the cool water splashing against the rocks of its bank. Continuing a few steps further she was there standing at the River of Life and gave thanks to the Indian Woman that guided her feet through the thicket. She looked down at her feet as the water splashed up and noticed that if by magic where the water drops wet her moccasins they turned a bright red in color. So in wonderment she placed one moccasin covered foot then the other into the river. When she stepped out from the water both moccasins had turned to the purest of reds and with that sign she became fully awaken to the real purpose of her journey.
Quickly now she filled each gourd with the Water of Life placing them on her shoulders and headed out from the thicket to follow the path of footsteps back as her mother instructed. The South Wind again guided her this time pushing her from behind giving her strength to move fast and with the grace of a woman. The red moccasins protected her and steadied her feet to ensure the water would make it safely back to her Dakota people.
On her arrival a large party of braves announced her return and her mother came running to greet her daughter. “Daughter of Dakota you have returned, you have brought the water safely to us from the River of Life and we shall celebrate you for you are no longer just my daughter, but the Daughter of all the Dakota having ensured their strength and their longevity.”
A celebration was held in her honor and with it a wedding to a strong brave of many feathers. Together they lived among the Dakota people on the plains and on its meadows, filling them with the joy and the laughter of six Dakota children of their own. And as the once maiden, now mother, watched her children grow she held sacred the red moccasins of her youth even as they faded with color of her hair.
written and copyrighted by
The Red Shoes
Artists Book Project
I stand in the ring
In the dead city
And tie on the red shoes…
They are not mine,
They are my mother’s
Her mother’s before,
Handed down like an heirloom
But hidden like shameful letters.
The red shoes are a symbol of creativity for women and our legacy. It is this legacy that The Red Shoes artists book project addresses. And it is this legacy that contemporary women do not know or have forgotten.
Women today are able to grasp the pen, hold the brush, sing and dance because of the women who went before, who struggled in isolation, which felt like illness – alienation, that felt like madness – obscurity, that felt like paralysis to overcome the anxiety of authorship that was endemic to their literary and creative subculture.
I have asked sixteen artists to join me in The Red Shoe project. The writings of these women are diverse in language, style, approach and form. They each seem to be remaking, renewing, renaming, re- experiencing and recasting old ideas about the Red Shoes, and the meaning in their lives.
“Women are writing wonderfully exciting, approachable, rich, funny and moving poetry (and prose) that can speak to a wider readership that it usually gets. Women are writing much of the best poetry being written, but remain poorly represented in anthologies, textbooks, reading series, prize lists, awards and every other institution controlled by white men who like the way things are presently run just fine. Women are still mostly read by women.” --Marge Percy, Early Ripening
The artists were chosen for this project simply because I love their work. There are many others that could have been included; perhaps this is just the beginning.
I conceived the idea of a Red Shoe artist book project, while reading the Madwoman in the Attic, by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. They explain that the women of the nineteenth- century had what was called “anxiety of authorship,” --a fear that she could not create, and the act of creating would isolate or destroy her. The symbol of the red shoes is often used in fairly tales as the symbol for the creativity of women, i.e. Snow White, The Wizard of OZ, Cinderella and others.
Feet bound securely
Toes tucked under
Fire licks tenderly
Red Shoes insist
They are made for dancing
Glass shoes will cut
Red all over
But without fear
Slip on the red shoes
And they dance
I want to personally thank Annell for asking me to participate in the Red Shoe Book Project...bkm