CULTURE PEARLS : Spirit of Recovery Echoes in American Indian Books, Crafts

Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who frequently contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. This column is one in an occasional series of looks at ethnic arts and culture in and around Orange County.

Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to the world, hear me. I come to you as one of your many children. I am small and weak. I need your strength and wisdom. May I walk in beauty.

--Prayer to the Great Spirit


Ancient Echoes, a 12-step recovery bookstore and American Indian specialty shop in Garden Grove, is not quite the odd combination it might initially seem. In fact, shop owner Mary Ray Bloodsworth says the focuses work in perfect tandem.

"To me, the spiritual beliefs of Native Americans are what we're all searching for in (Alcoholics Anonymous)," said Bloodsworth, a recovering alcoholic. "We're all looking for wisdom; we're all asking to walk in beauty. I read that prayer about 50 times a day."

Bloodsworth's store offers a variety of items made by Cheyenne, Hopi, Zuni, Cherokee, Navajo and Blackfoot tribes. Most of the artisans live locally. But perhaps the store's biggest contribution is going beyond the standard fare.

Bloodsworth thinks of her store as a haven for victims of all types of prejudice. In addition to the less controversial volumes about Indian art, music, beliefs and rituals, she stocks an inventory of gay and lesbian Indian literature--a genre that most people don't even know exists.

"In many Native American tribes, gays were thought to be fortunate because they had two spirits, that of a man and a woman," she explained. She picked up "The Zuni Man-Woman," by Will Roscoe, by way of example. The book examines the most famous berdache (a North American Indian male who assumed the dress, role and status of a woman and was accepted as such), and the religious and mythological implications of his/her role.

According to Bloodsworth, many people imagine "a bunch of old medicine men sitting around a fire" when they think of Indians. To help debunk the misconception that Indian society was dominated by males, she carries three full shelves of books about medicine women.

"Mother Earth, Father Sky," she said. "Women have always had a say in tribal matters, though more prominently in some tribes than others. In fact, the chief of the Cherokee Nation today is Wilma Mankiller."

Elsewhere in the store, visitors can find Kachina dolls--representing spirits of ancestors or minor deities--that range from $49 for Crow Mother to $110 for Eagle Dancer. Items for the complete warrior include leather-bound spears, breastplates and war shields known as mandellas. Hung as decorations, the mandellas are thought to bring happiness and prosperity.

"I wouldn't be without one," said Bloodsworth, who is one-quarter Cherokee.

Peace pipes, as well as powwow tapes and videos, are also available.

Indian flute music plays continuously in the shop, and Bloodsworth stocks a number of handmade flutes as well as fire drums (large and flat like a pancake) and power rattles (like regular rattles, only louder). Jewelry includes rings from $20 and a spectacular bracelet featuring a huge blue lapis lazuli framed by garnets and sterling silver feathers, made by Lutz WhiteBird of Garden Grove, at $3,000.

Other items include beaded Blackfoot moccasins, Cheyenne bone-and-shell dance necklaces and Cherokee daggers fashioned from stag antlers and turquoise.

Ancient Echoes opened three years ago primarily as a 12-step bookstore, with a few odds and ends for sale.

"I had bought some Native American arts and crafts like a lot of people," she recalled. "My sister was dying of cancer, and she began to talk about our native heritage. Our grandfather was a full-blooded Cherokee. She reminded me that when we were kids, we knew that we had an Indian guide guiding us through life. (That idea) helped us with child abuse, and later when we were both recovering alcoholics.

"A lot of Native Americans are on 12-step. Local Native Americans started bringing in consignment items, and we began sharing one-on-one. They say that whatever's needed will be put there for you. If you ever wonder what you're doing on Brookhurst Street in Garden Grove, well, what was needed was put here.

"Native American people helped to bring me to recovery. I hope my shop helps bring recovery to Native American people."


* 12776 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove.

* (714) 638-0908.

* 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends.

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