by Doug Alderson
Published in Shaman’s Drum, Number 78, 2008 Grandfather Bear Heart Marcellus Williams made his transition into Spirit on Monday, August 4th, 2008, at the age of 90. Born of the Muskogee Creek tribe in Okemah, Oklahoma, he became steeped in the medicine ways of his people, and later in life, in the ways of many other traditions. Over the course of his life, be was adopted by several tribes and freely shared his healing gifts and wisdom with people of all cultures and backgrounds. The following experiences, adapted from The Vision Keepers: Walking for Native Americans and the Earth (Quest Books, 2007), reveals some of Bear Heart’s incredible shamanistic talents.
He didn’t quite fulfill the image I had of a full-blooded Native American. He wore pointed cowboy boots, jeans, and a button-down shirt. Only a few feathers protruded from the side of his cowboy hat—small ones of the red flicker. His black hair was cropped short, and, when he smiled, it was apparent he was missing bottom teeth. His face was roundish, his skin dark, his eyes a shining black. His name was Bear Heart.
Bear Heart had flown to Tallahassee to give a talk on Native American medicine at a healing arts festival. He began his talk with an explanation of his background. He had studied under two traditional Muskogee Creek teachers, Daniel Beaver and David Lewis. Later, as his healing practice expanded, he helped people of many tribes and cultures and learned other healing techniques. At speaking engagements like this one, where he was speaking mostly to non-Indians, he sought to break through stereotypes.
“The Indian isn’t just sitting around moping about the buffalo,” he said. “We like to laugh and enjoy life.”
At one point, he said he could send positive energy to people with just good thoughts. “Take him, for example,” he said, pointing to me. “I will turn my back, and in a moment he will feel something good.” He turned around and a warm, pure feeling came over me, much like what I had experienced on the Appalachian Trail.
After his talk, Bear Heart invited people to visit his healing table outside, at no charge. I had strained my neck from doing yoga, resulting in some swelling, so I took my turn in waiting for Bear Heart’s help. When the time came, he had me lie down on the cot and relax. I explained the problem with my neck and also asked him about the recent presence of large hawks in my life. Their sudden appearance, both in dreams and physical reality, struck me as being more than coincidental. One such bird—an osprey—had visited me outside the pizza business where I was working. It was a raptor I thought to be a large kite at first, hovering thirty feet overhead.
“They are good messengers,” Bear Heart told me. “The hawk may some day give you a vision and even the power to heal people.”
He began chanting softly, intermittently blowing short, rapid breaths over my body. He then concentrated on my neck, blowing and waving a fan of flicker feathers. Closing my eyes, I began to feel lighter, as if in a dream. In my mind’s eye, I was merging with something bright, warm, and wonderful. I sat up and began flapping my arms as if they were wings. Bear Heart chuckled. “I took you flying over the Appalachians,” he later told me, even though I had never mentioned that I had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail a couple of years before. I felt my neck, and it was healed.