On Sacred Objects
Photo Source: Media.defense.gov
One time while in Sedona, Arizona, my husband bought me a very precious amulet. It was constructed out of gold, electrum, moonstone, opal, picture jasper, pipestone, silver, and turquoise. It is around two inches in diameter with a depiction of White Buffalo Woman on the front and a buffalo on the back. It was made to wear as a necklace though it is not jewelry in the ordinary sense, as it was made intentionally to be a sacred object. White Buffalo Woman is revered by many Native American tribes as a mysterious woman who appeared and brought wise teachings of peace and the sacredness of the universe. She is still revered today by many Native American peoples. My amulet-necklace was made by a Native American Shaman, Heyoka Merrifield, who has dedicated his life to creating sacred objects. He creates everything from jewelry to altars for churches of various faiths. His work is mind-blowingly beautiful, which in a way, can oddly distract one from the fact that he creates objects with a specific purpose in mind—and that is to bring the sacred down to the personal human level where we worry about what to cook for dinner or how our finances will do in the coming new year.
One of the odder aspects regarding my beloved White Buffalo Woman is the fact that I seldom wear it, and when I do, I am often alone, at home, and working. It is not a showpiece for me rather an experience, and I prefer solitude when I wear it. It rests on my chest in an oddly flat manner (as if there was some subtle suction) and grows intensely warm. Because I do not wear it often—my body has not grown used to it, so when I wear it, I always feel its presence. I primarily wear it when I am feeling very lost and need to return to Spirit which for me is always my most comfortable home. I also do not sit and think about my White Buffalo Woman amulet; rather it would be then about thinking. I just put it on and go about my ordinary day. However, I feel intensely its heat and weight (it is heavy to wear), and its pain as I have very long hair and the necklace part is made of green turquoise cylinder beads which catch and pull the baby fine hairs at the nape of my neck. At the end of the day when I return it to its velvet and satin case, I always have to pull dozens of long blonde hairs from it.
I grew up Catholic, and while I am no longer Catholic, I still have a deep fondness for Catholic ritual and sacred objects. Buddhists and Hindus also have some incredible sacred flare—many world religions do. In fact, our human history is one long story told in sacred objects along with our advances in other areas such as science and medicine. At first glance, it may seem needlessly materialistic to have so much stuff and garb and hats and altarpieces, however, we humans are just that—humans. Spirit may very well be invisible and need nothing material, but humans are physical and do need to see, touch, and hold things in order to connect with spirit at an emotional level.
Are sacred objects the same as lucky or sentimental objects? As I was making notes for this essay, that question popped up, and to be honest, it was tricky to answer because I think it depends on how one views luck or sentiment. For me, a lucky trinket might not have the same weight as a rosary or Buddha statue, however, an Armenian friend of mine gave me an evil eye with instructions that if it ever breaks or is lost, its power was used to ward off evil. I believe that for her and her Armenian culture the evil eye is not just a good luck charm—it reveals a protective relationship one can have with good and evil. Giving someone an evil eye is giving someone supernatural protection. It is about love and a belief that we can as humans call on unseen powers. I am not sure if the evil eye is real, but I am sure the love of the giver was. So, when I see my evil eye I feel very warm and happy, and goodness if it does break, or if I lose it then who knows?
For sentimental items, I had a hard time saying it was higher or lower or different from objects specifically created for religious practice or intention. Around three years ago, my father had stage 4 inoperable cancer, and in a funny, ordinary moment (I was in the kitchen having coffee and reading the newspaper, and my father was heading out to run errands) he stopped and looked at me. I then looked up at him. He then, with some struggle, pulled off a large gold ring he had worn for years. He told me that a dear friend had two made: one for him and one for his friend. He then set it in front of me and told me that he wanted me to have it. It took six attempts until the jeweler could properly size the ring without damaging its face, as my father is nearly 6’4”, and I have fingers so thin, some of my rings are child sizes. As I recall and write this passage between my father and I and his giant gold ring that became a part of him as much as his blue eyes and tall stature, I have tears in my eyes. Miraculously, my father is still alive, stunning all the specialists, and I have a very sacred, lucky, and sentimental ring on my hands. I wear it often and love it almost as though it is my father (in a funny, enormous gold way). It may seem incredibly materialistic of me to be so attached to an object—or superstitious and silly of me to project protective powers onto an object—but I think most of all, it is human of me.
We humans do need to hold on to something.
Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.
Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.