It was in the cold, grey days of February when my partner came home and said, “There’s a woman coming to Toronto to do a talk. You have to go.” The certainty in his voice got my attention.
“Her name is WindEagle and she’s talking about a leadership program called Evocative Leadership. I just know you have to be there.”
This was Sunday night. The talk was on Tuesday, two hours away from my warm and cozy living room in London, Ontario. I struggled to wrap my mind around the logistics. How would I make it to Toronto on such short notice?
“I’ll take you,” he said. “We’ll drive down together and come back the same night.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, still slightly taken aback by his determination.
“Yup, yup, absolutely.”
Two days later, I found myself sitting in a circle of attentive strangers, listening to the woman called WingEagle from New Mexico tell us about her Evocative Leadership program. I hung on her every word as she told us about her husband, with whom she had developed the program, and his passing only a few months prior.
“I’m still grieving,” she said, “but this is a project that we believed in. So, I’m going to forge ahead and launch it. His name was RainbowHawk.”
With those words, a sudden chill rushed through me. My mind and body reeled. It was as if, upon hearing his name, her husband had joined us there in the room.
I reached into my bag and pulled out my checkbook. I knew I wanted to be part of whatever came next.
I signed up for an introductory weekend retreat. As I arrived on the grounds of the retreat center, I felt a sensation on my back. Like a hand gently pushing me forward. Remembering my experience in Toronto, I sought out WindEagle.
“I felt it was RainbowHawk,” I said, “Is that possible?”
A gentle “mmmm” lilted through her smile. She didn’t say anything more. She didn’t have to.
When I felt that same hand on my back a few weeks later, as I arrived on the land of the Shining Stones in Abiquiu, New Mexico for the first day of the Evocative Leadership program, I knew I was being guided. “I’m in the right place,” I thought.
The program consisted of 5 retreats over the course of 15 months, each lasting 7 days. There would be 15 people from around the world participating. WindEagle hosted us at her home. During the first retreat, we were shown how to create our own medicine circle. We were then sent off onto the land to create our circle and ask questions in each direction. Growing up on the rocky shores of Parry Sound, I was drawn to the canyon. I stood at the edge and looked down. I could see a small ledge below me. I climbed down and found myself in the perfect secluded spot to create my medicine circle.
I sat down in the center of my circle facing the rock’s edge where I’d climbed down, and went into a meditation. The moment I closed my eyes, I heard a voice from deep within me: “Look up.”
The words were as clear as if I’d spoken them out loud. “Look up,” I heard again. I opened my eyes and lifted my head to the sky. There, at the top of a tall tree, was a huge Red-Tailed Hawk. “Oh!” I heard myself say, overwhelmed. I didn’t know what it meant, seeing that hawk, but I knew it was important. That was the first sighting.
Over the course of the next several months, I would see Red-Tailed Hawks regularly. Often, I was the only one. The rest of the group would spin around asking, “Where? Where?!” but by then it would already be behind us. WindEagle would just smile knowingly.
During the second retreat, I began hearing people talk about wanting to receive their medicine name. In one of our evening circles, WindEagle explained that a medicine name can be given to you through an elder, or it can come to you through nature. She encouraged us just to wait, with no expectations. She said if we felt ready, we could ask – just put it out, “I’m ready for my medicine name.” I was content to wait.
During the third retreat, we visited the beautiful, sacred grounds of Indigenous Pueblo peoples. It had been designated a conservation area and the caves where they lived had been protected, right down to the makeshift ladders they used to climb into the caves. I loved being there. Together as a group, we climbed into one of the caves and had a ceremony. I was very emotional and feeling deeply impacted by the experience. When it was over, I climbed down the ladder and was standing by WindEagle when I felt pulled to look up. A Red-Tailed Hawk was circling overhead. I tugged WindEagle’s arm and pointed to the sky, “Look!” She smiled to the sky and said happily, “Hi, Honey!”
After the ceremony in the cave, we were sent off onto the land on our own to reflect, be with ourselves, journal, walk, sit – whatever we felt called to do. I was moving very slowly in a walking meditation, when I heard inside myself, “Ask for your medicine name.” So, I said aloud, “I’m ready for my medicine name when it comes.”
It came the very next morning.
I had gotten up early and was outside doing an honouring of the land of the Shining Stones. It was a meditation I’d learned from WindEagle that included specific movements. I was in a deep meditative state, moving as I was taught. Then, with my eyes closed, as I lifted my head to the sky I heard, “Red Tail Woman.” “What?” I thought. “Red Tail Woman,” I heard again. It was as if the words had come to me on the wind.
When I saw WindEagle later that morning, I greeted her, and I said, “I think I heard my medicine name.”
“Come with me,” she said.
She took my hand and walked me over to the edge of the canyon, “Whisper your name to me.” I did.
She bowed her head and closed her eyes, then she turned to me and said, “Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to hold that inside of you – don’t share it – and when you go back home, try to be around Red-Tailed Hawks. I don’t know if it’s possible, but this is what I’m feeling.”
When I arrived home, a warm day in June, I decided to reach out to Salthaven. I’d recently been introduced to their work and thought they might have a hawk I could go see. I pulled up their website to look for their contact information, and the first thing that came up was a photo of their ambassador: a Red-Tailed Hawk.
“Oh my god,” I thought.
I called and arranged a tour with the Executive Director, Brian Salt. When I arrived, Brian was running late, so he invited me to wander the grounds while I waited. I followed the road around a corner and froze. There, tethered to a box, was the hawk.
I stayed a good distance away. I just knew not to go close. He seemed agitated, fluttering his wings. He tried to fly but was pulled back by the tether. Then he tried again and again was pulled back. I noticed I was finding it hard to see and witness. I focused my attention to what was happening in me. I felt like I needed to back off even further, so I removed myself. I could still see him, but he was further away. Shortly after, Brian arrived to give me my tour. I didn’t tell him about my moment with the hawk. I just knew – that was a message only for me.
In September, I connected with a girlfriend of mine who I’d known for 15 years. It wasn’t until we were chatting that I realized – the place she lives is called Hawks Cliff Farm! Out of the blue, she mentioned that they do bird and hawk banding for one weekend in September. I couldn’t believe it. My partner and I decided to go with my cousin and her husband to see the banding.
We went on the Saturday and when we arrived, we consulted a big whiteboard that listed what birds had been banded the previous two days. I didn’t see any Red-Tailed Hawks. We wandered over to a flatbed truck where, from the back of his half-ton, a man in a Tilley hat was doing a talk about the birds they’d caught and would be releasing. He held up a pringles container, which I learned is how they contain the birds because it makes them feel safe and cocooned. He pulled out the bird and hung on to its legs.
It was a young Red-Tailed Hawk.
I stood no more than 10 feet away as he talked about the hawk and hawks in general. I was so close to it, I could feel it in my heart. As the man continued his talk, I kept hearing a quick, repeated, “Let me go. Let me go. Let me go.” And then, as if the man had heard it too, he let the hawk go.
“I don’t normally release them so soon,” he said, “but this one wanted to go.”
The hawk flew away. But not before I got all kinds of pictures of it! My favourite is taken at such an angle that the man holding the hawk is hidden, and it looks like this young, majestic hawk is donning the man’s Tilley hat. It makes me laugh every time I see it.
I’d successfully completed my homework. And the messages I’d received from hawk were so simplistic and beautiful. My soul is not to be tethered. My soul is to be free and flying.
I went back for the fourth retreat in October. As I greeted WindEagle with a hug, she whispered in my ear, “Will you speak your medicine name tonight?”
How did she know? “Are you sure?” I asked.
She was sure.
“OK,” I said, “but not before I show you these pictures!” I pulled out my phone. As I scrolled through my pictures, she was amazed and so touched. Then she got to the one with the hawk in the Tilley hat.
She paused and said gently, “RainbowHawk used to wear Tilley hats all the time.” I shivered.
“Are you kidding me?” I blurted.
“No,” she said with a smile, “All the time.”
I had been powerfully guided.
That night, we sat in our ceremonial opening circle, preparing for another 7 days together. WindEagle greeted us all and said, “We’re going to do a check in, and we have a member who’s ready to speak her name tonight.”
I was so nervous! I felt I’d been holding a treasure. I wasn’t sure what I’d say when it came to me, but when the words left my mouth before I had a chance to think, “I am Red Tail Woman.”
The group responded in a collective whisper, “Woah.”
WindEagle spoke, “And so it is. And you’ve been heard. Welcome Red Tail Woman.”
When I arrived home, I phoned my cousin – she too is called by hawks. I told her I’d spoken my medicine name and shared it with her.
“Oh my god,” she said, “I’m sending you something right now. Look at your email.”
I opened the image and gasped. It was a painting of an indigenous woman by an artist named Bert Seabourn. He titled it Sun Hawk.
“This is you, Susan,” she said.
I couldn’t take it in. It was too big, too much. Seeing my medicine name – my essence – captured so powerfully in a painting that had somehow found its way to me only a few days after first speaking my name? It was overwhelming.
I reached out to the artist and asked if I could use the image on my website and in my printed materials. He said he’d be honoured. I asked what I could pay him, but he replied simply, “Nothing.” He has since passed, but I will be forever grateful to him for this gift.
On the final day of the final retreat, we were saying goodbye when WindEagle said, “Oh! Come here, come here.”
She took my hand and led me inside her home, “I have a gift for you.”
We walked into her hogan – a round structure made of clay cement to keep the cool in – and over to a window overlooking the canyon. There were two chairs facing the window. One belonged to WindEagle and the other to RainbowHawk. Above each chair was a wing of a Red-Tailed Hawk.
WindEagle reached over the chairs and took a single feather off each of the wings. She put the feathers together in my hand and smiled. They were small, contour feathers, which made them feel all the more precious. In WindEagle’s gift of these smaller, more delicate feathers I felt the message was, “Take care of this. Take care of this piece of who you are. You’re just beginning.”
Shamanism is like a puzzle that you put together – a pathway you follow, without knowing where you’re going.
It’s been an ongoing process of accepting and dropping deeper and deeper into my medicine name. The power I feel behind it was initially frightening, and it took time for me to reconcile the fact that the hawk is a predator animal. But over the years of sitting with my medicine name and understanding it on a deeper level – emotionally, mentally, and in my soul – I have come to understand the balance between predator and prey.
Now, whenever I get tunnel vision – when I’m feeling small, challenged, or stressed – I hear the hawks calling or see them circling overhead, reminding me to see the bigger picture. That is the biggest message my hawk medicine gives to me.
As I write to you, there is a 3-dimensional dream catcher that hangs in my home. It was gifted to me years ago by an indigenous artist I worked with in my early thirties. At the bottom of the dream catcher there are four hawk feathers. This gift came to me long before I stepped into my medicine name, and yet here it hangs. Red-Tailed Hawk has been with me my entire life.
And I with him.