Drinking my coffee, gazing out the window at the rose bushes, and the clouds in the Portland summer sky are conducting a conference about whether to allow a full sunshine blast in the next 15 minutes or 2 hours from now. It rained quite a bit this morning, and that feels just right.
This week’s story is from the Maidu people of Northern California, and it is called “Moon and Frog Old Woman.” It is part of the compilation of Native American Folktales titled, The Girl Who Helped Thunder, retold by Joseph Bruhac, Sr. and Joseph Bruhac, Ph.D.
In the Beforetime, Moon, who is atypically cast as a male entity in this story, once lived on Earth. He builds an earth lodge with the only opening being the smoke hole at the apex of his roof. He also coats the walls with ice so no one can climb in or out. Then he proceeds to collect slaves to work in his earth lodge by stealing human children and imprisoning them in his house. They cannot climb out because of the ice.
One day he kidnaps the grandson of Frog Old Woman, and though the villagers warn her that Moon is all-powerful when he sits at the top of his roof, she vows she will get her grandson back. Moon tries to tempt her with beautiful willow trees that she would love to use for braiding her beloved baskets, but she doesn’t stay distracted for long.
Frog Old Woman gets to the Moon’s house and demands her grandson back. Moon laughs at her. The blessed wrinkled ancient woman spends a long time climbing and falling and getting back up to climb the high icy walls of that enchanted lodge over and over again. This part is comical, because I direct the kids to pantomime climbing and then to fall safely to the ground to lie on their backs as we groan like an old woman.
Through dogged persistence, Frog Old Woman does finally make it to the roof where she demands her grandson’s release once again, this time threatening to swallow Moon if he does not comply.
Moon laughs again, daring her to try, and lo and behold, the old lady manages it! The ice immediately starts to melt off the walls of Moon’s house, and the children are able climb an escape as Frog Old Woman urges them with her mouth clamped shut.
But very soon, Moon begins to regain his strength and pushes his way out of Frog Old Woman’s mouth. Then he grabs her, turns her into a real frog, and tosses her in a river. Feeling his power no longer invulnerable on Earth, he moves his lodge to the sky where it is today, but even as a frog, Frog Old Woman is still able today to exert her influence on Moon monthly swallowing him whole into a new moon from which he must cyclically recover from.
As a result, Moon never forgets that a seemingly weak and frail being still has the power to overcome his Power, and so he never returns to Earth to steal any more children.
What is true Strength? My students on Friday brought up the topic spontaneously after we flowed through this story. They seemed to think that Power is the ability to make things happen, and that Strength is the ability to direct that Power. They saw Moon as possessing Power, but Frog Old Woman possesses strength that somehow is capable of trumping Moon’s power. I think they are on to something.
Power so often gets confused with Strength. So often we think we are strong when we are full of action. Energetic talking, confidence in social situations, accomplishments, vibrant sex appeal- these all seem to be the fruits of power and strength, right?
Enslaving children is evil, but Moon’s Power seems to negate the power of Justice and make this violation of human rights possible. So Power does not have to be just. It seems whoever possesses the most gets to call the shots. We see this in the world today with recent events like 234 Nigerian girls being kidnapped for human trafficking in broad daylight from their school, correct?
But Frog Old Woman has Power too. It is very small and humble compared to Moon’s. In fact, it is so small; no one seems to be able to see it through all her wrinkles and crouched stance. It’s a wonder she is alive, let alone has the gumption to even voice the idea of taking on Moon.
As Don Juan said to Carlos Castaneda, “A warrior is impeccable when he trusts his personal power whether it is small or enormous.” I think maybe Strength has something to do with trusting in this personal power, as well practicing faith that we are all connected parts of an inherently good Creation.
Some things are worth standing up for, and we know what these things are by being in close communion with our hearts. Strength means living and one day dying for the things that our heart says we must protect and feed. Sometimes, we look at our personal power, and it might not be enough to accomplish what we feel in our hearts we must do. When we attempt it anyway- that’s Strength.
Strength seems to be a matter of the Heart, and as such it defies logic and often defies Power. Perhaps that is because whatever is connected to the Heart is also connected the Heart of all Beings and thus the Heart of Creation. The Heart of Creation is kept pumping by a Power that underlies all reality, and who can fathom that?
I am grateful for the character of Frog Old Woman. She is so ancient. People are startled that she can even walk. But when I think of the immediacy of her response to her grandson’s abduction when more capable people cower in fear and resignation, I see the kind of courage I would like to one day embody.
I look at the challenges I face today. I know they aren’t that big in the grand scheme of things, but for me, to face them today takes courage, even if it is a little courage.
Courage, like fires, ideas, and people, starts out small. It needs to be fed by daily practice, belief, and love. Frog Old Woman teaches that we should not be concerned by how long it takes. Simply state your intent, and then be on it. If you keep crashing to the ground, keep getting up, and keep climbing, scratching, inching your way up the icy walls of that monstrous beast that seems impossible to mount. I love how she doesn’t care how humble she looks trying to scale that slick wall with her withered body.
Today is the day to be a courageous and beautiful fool for Love!
Poses I will feature in this story:
Malasana: Garland Pose (aka: squat)- There is a lot of squatting throughout the story as the whole time Frog Old Woman is talking and walking towards the house of the Moon, we are in squat. A lot of my students seem to really get a kick out of talking like an old lady.
Waxing and Waning Moon cycle: This one I put together based on a number of different poses and adapting it to a foundation that rests on one knee since teaching chandrasana, half moon pose, can be a bit too advanced for a lot of students to do in the flow of a story.
Start by standing up on bent knees. Extend one leg out to form a triangle with your other bent knee leg. The floor and the bent knee should be forming a 90-degree angle.
Then use the arm that’s on the same side as the bent knee leg to lean over and help support your upper body extending away from the straightened leg. The opposite arm reaches straight up into the air. The whole body is on the same plane, except for the lower part of the bent knee leg which extends behind the body on the ground as a support. Then I direct the students to lift that extended long leg to hover above the ground if their balance feels strong. Once we are full extended into this pose, this represents the full moon.
Then we start to let our moons wane by slowly coming down to tabletop position. Then we lower onto our bellies, and this represents the new moon phase of the lunar cycle. Rising back up to tabletop and full moon on the other side represents the waxing half of the lunar cycle.
Mandukasana: Frog Pose- We use this pose at the end of the story when Frog Old Woman confronts Moon on the roof of his house.
(photo credits: Talia Keen)