History of the Prayer Vigil for the Earth

The Beginning 1993
The first thirty hour "One Mind, One Voice, One Heart, One Prayer" vigil was held at the Washington Monument in Washington, DC in October 1993. The Vigil was inspired by a vision of an Eagle that called for healing and prayer in the US history-1Capitol. The vision emphasized the importance of including Native Wisdom Keepers to begin healing national wounds and bring respect to Native culture and spirituality.

Each fall since 1993, Native American Wisdom Keepers and others have gathered before the flames of a sacred fire enclosed by a circle of tipis to share their ceremonies and teachings with all who attend. The Vigil has been expanding each year and by 1997, the circle of tipis opened to include structures and dwellings from all other cultures and religious traditions.

Every year, sacred Peace Pipe Ceremonies are held to bring forward one indigenous spiritual tradition and educate the public about native ways. Highlights of past Prayer Vigils include the planting of three Trees of Peace in the Memorial Gardens next to the Reflecting Pond on The Mall. Chief Leon Shenandoah, The Tahodaho (Peace Maker) of the Six Nation Confederacy, planted three of the trees in the grove of four. The Tree of Peace teachings guide human beings in their governance. Many believe that the Great Law of Peace of the Six Nation Confederacy influenced the US Constitution. Another ceremony featured in The Circle events is a special blessing at the Jefferson Pier, the original center directional marker for the Nation's Capitol. It's mounted in the path of the morning shadow of the Washington Monument.

The Wittenberg Center of New York introduced a Bless the Eagle ceremony in 1994, where participants created a prayer circle around the Capitol. During this event, sacred ceremonies were performed to bring racial unity and to bless future generations.

history-3Other cultures began to bring their ceremonies to the Vigil. That year, a traditional elder from Senegal, Africa spoke. The World Peace Prayer Ceremony, which was developed in Japan at the conclusion of World War II, joined the Circle events and is now a regular part of Vigil This ceremony, sponsored by The World Peace Prayer Society, brings all the flags of the world into a sacred healing circle where their billowing folds send prayers aloft.

history-4The theme of the Prayer Vigil was Working and Praying Together to Provide a Sustainable World for All of Our Children. A Shayk from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem made a surprise visit to the Vigil and prayed with members of the Jewish faith and exchanged teachings with Indigenous Wisdom Keepers. This was the first year that supporting prayer circles around the Earth prayed as the sun rose in each time zone.

The Prayer Vigil became a truly interfaith event. Representatives encompassing a wide range of cultures and spiritual persuasions offered prayers, musical selections, dance and drum. The evening program was especially magical when a Circle of All People danced and sang to African drums and the folk music of a Jewish Rabbi. The theme for 1998 was "Gathering to Pray [so] Present and Future Beings on Earth Know Unity and Love.

 Structures from other faiths joined the tipis, enhancing the everâ‘widening circle. A Labyrinth was designed on the ground to provide  opportunities for walking meditation. Made of corn meal, the labyrinth was adorned with feathers, candles and crystals, giving participants a truly sacred journey. A traditional African altar was constructed providing a special place for prayer and honoring the ancient ones. Buddhist Monks held vigil at their Stupa, with ongoing ceremony and a Sukkah from the Jhistory-6ewish tradition balanced the circle. In the Meditation tipi, two women held vigil in silent prayer for the entire 33 hours. The 1999 Vigil had a special focus on Youth, featuring dancers from Unity by the Bay, prayers from the Youth of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington DC and inspiring music from teenager Melissa Marshall of the Rosebud Sioux tribe. Complementing the program participants were youth activities such as making friendship bracelets, storytelling and arts and crafts. Filled with hope and enthusiasm, the youth brought a special energy to the circle.

The 2000 Prayer Vigil began with an inspirational photo exhibit of the Prayer Vigil in the Rotunda of the U. S. House of Representatives Cannon Office Building from September 18 to September 30. Rep. Tom Lantos of California and the Speaker of the House of Representatives sponsored the exhibit, which included 50 images from pasthistory-18 Vigils depicting the history of the Vigil and celebrating its participants. The 2000 Prayer Vigil was amemorable event for all participants, with its focus on creating a worldwide culture of peace. As people walkedup the hill next to the Washington Monument, they were greeted by the sight of thousands of Japanese children's Peace Flags waving in the breeze, encircling tipis, a Jewish sukkah, a Christian altar, a Hindu Yantra, a Tibetan stupa, an African style labyrinth, a sacred White Pine tree from the Japanese Shinji Shumeikai faith, and special altars designed to invite further contemplation.

The Vigil's South Dakota-based Native American host drum was joined again by the African drum, offered byhistory-8 elder Baba Ngoma, and the Shinji Shumeikai Japanese Taiko drum. In a powerful crescendo, the drums played together and called in the heart beat of Mother Earth with the unison and respect for life we all long to achieve. The Cloth of Many Colors, put together by James Twyman and the public during the Balkan crisis, also visited the Vigil. Participants held the large Cloth in a circle and, like the Earth, rotated it around while everyone offered prayers for the well being of our planet.

The Prayer Vigil for the Earth in 2001 came at an unprecedented time in United States history. Coming only a week and a half after the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we were not at all sure we would be allowed to hold the event. Washington, DC was under heavy security. But history-9there was enormous support from the participants and the general public to hold the Prayer Vigil And everyone agreed the time for Prayer was never so needed. Then the National Parks Service gave us the go-ahead , and the Vigil began as scheduled, as our focus became healing, peace and tolerance. The Thursday before the Vigil, the weather was very stormy. But Friday dawned with a beautiful sunrise and clear sky, while all the flags around the Washington Monument were still at half staff. We created a 911 Memorial Prayer Grove in honor of those who perished on September 11and their families. The sunrise ceremony on Saturday featured the DC Mayor's mother, Virginia Williams, who gave everyone a warm, heartful welcome to Washington and offered some beautiful songs. All of the 2000 participants were there for the 2001 Vigil.

The Prayer Vigil for the Earth had a very different appearance than previous years. Gone was the circle of tipishistory-10 and instead there were a variety of structures that gave the circle lots of open space. The Prayer Vigil had been evolving to be more and more expansive and inclusive (re: interfaith activities) each year, and this was the time for including different structures as well. We had the labyrinth, stupa, sukkah, many small canopies with a large pink one in the center. Activities for children were vastly expanded, including theatre for children and the amazing production of a beautiful, original, nature play involving many actors, gorgeous props and wonderful songs. The kids stayed enthralled throughout the performance. Another interfaith highlight was the Sunday morning breaking of bread together. Baskets of bread pieces were distributed by children and then more than 20 different blessings on food were shared. It was a powerfully moving time for all of us. The basics certainly brought us together.

history-11In 2002, people came from many places including a large contingent of Shinji Shumeikai from Japan with theirhuge Taiko drums. We also were blessed with our very own Native American drum made for the Vigil as well as Baba Ngoma (father drum) with his traditional African drumming. At the end, all the drums blended together for a very memorable experience. We also had a lot of women's participation with a talking circle for peace and much singing and dancing throughout the weekend.

Each year the Vigil has had it's own atmosphere and 2002 still had a lingering feeling about Sept 11, 2001 while creating something new to take into the future, especially more participation by women and children.

2003 and 2004
For both these Prayer Vigils, we faced the daunting âœparticipationâ of hurricanes. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made an unusual history-12trek up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac Rivers and hit Washington DC on the Thursday before the Vigil. So after starting the Vigil in a hotel conference room, miraculously our site opened up late Saturday morning and the Vigil went on as planned. Special blessings were given to the water and to the Potomac River that weekend. In 2004, we were threatened with Hurricane Ivan, which made its way from the west on the Friday evening of the Vigil weekend. Yet, although storms and tornadoes raged all around the Vigil site, the site itself was just fine. And by late Saturday morning the skies were blue and the air fresh and clean.

The Prayer Vigil for the Earth has come to be known as a circle of circles. And as the number of circles increases and become more interconnected, our collective commitment to work for a healthy planet where humanity and all other species live in peace, balance and harmony has become more steadfast. Never was this commitment demonstrated more strongly than during the 2004 Prayer Vigil. In spite of other events being cancelled in DC because of the threat of the storm, we, --the volunteers, participants and organizers -- made a collaborative decision to go forward with the Vigil.

And what a sweet and magical Vigil 2004 was! Saturday evening especially demonstrated a strong blend ofhistory-19traditions when history-13HH Swami Parmanandji of India shared his simple, yet powerful Hindu wisdom in afiresideTalking Circle. And Baba Ngoma once again graced us with the African drum. The Shinji Shumeikailed simultaneous prayers and Taiko Drumming with others in Japan; Shekyh Abdul Kerim al-Kibrisi and others from the Islamic Center in New York led a chant where all participated. Rabbi David Shneyer did a group teaching of folk music and talks about returning to the sacred path. Native American elders also shared stories, drumming and song late into the night. 

2004 was perhaps our most intensely focused Vigil and our sense of community grew to new heights. And during the closing prayers, conducted by Dineh Grace Smith Yellowhammer, a bald eagle circled directly over the Vigil site. The rare appearance of an eagle was an affirmation of our commitment to continue the Vigil into the future.

history-14Nor did the 2004 Vigil really end on Sunday. Many of our Native American Elders participated in the Grand Opening of the National Museum of the American Indian and our organization, The Circle, marched in the procession. Children from the four directions carried a flag of a white dove with the earth in its heart, a symbolic representation of the Prayer Vigil's mission that was gifted to us by Jean Alley from Washington State. What a joyous way to end the 2004 Vigil!

The Prayer Vigil took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as our prayers went out to all of the victims. On the eve of the Vigil, one of our most beloved volunteers, Craig Lavender, passed away from a 7-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was remembered throughout the Vigil and prayers from many different faiths were offered for him.

history-15Such life happenings bring the Vigil family closer together. The circle was powerful and the resolve of the participants strong. During the weekend, a group of participants created a song for the Prayer Vigil, This Ground Is Holy Ground. Select lyrics were inspired by the comments of Elders from diverse traditions when asked to share deep spiritual understandings.

This is one person's impression of the 2005 Prayer Vigil expressed in a poem:

One Prayer

Tents and tipis
Form a Sacred Hoop
Anchored by the Fire

Different Faiths
Different Drums
One heartbeat

We Dance together
The Path of Heart
Driven by the Drum and the Song

We are the Fire
We are the Drum
We are the Dance

We are the Prayer
And we are strong
Like Sacred Smoke â“ we go everywhere

See us,
Know us,
Join us.


Cedar Wolfsinger
22 September 2005

This Prayer Vigil marked our return to the Washington Monument. After a three-year absence, the site pulled us home and the result was an
unprecedented spirit of unity and co-creation. Women of Spirit from diverse Spiritual traditions invoked and appealed to the Powerful Loving Kindness of the Feminine aspect of Creation - water -- so that we might nurture, sustain, heal, create and restore balance, beauty and harmony within ourselves, our families, our communities, our world and our planet!

We also had an extraordinary Middle East healing, forgiveness, and celebration ceremony conducted by Muslims and Jews.

The Circle of Compassion, created by Rev. Betsy Stang, Prayer Vigil co-founder, kept expanding as people joined to offer their words for peace. People mindfully walked the magical labyrinth, marked by 500 wild turkey feathers, throughout the vigil. Youth from the KPC Buddhist Center led the participants in chant and prayer accompanied by drums.  At midnight on Saturday, a corn meal offering to Mother Earth was led by Lakota Haise Frazier. The chanting Sufis returned, offering prayers as the sun flowed over the Vigil. The community passed under the canopy of compassion and received sweet, sacred dates and water, and formed a line where love was shared in many languages and strong, warm hugs.

2008 was a transformation and transition year for many, including the Vigil. Some of the transformational lessons of the 2008 Vigil are:

1. Spontaneity and trust bring forth grace.

2. Intimacy of soul calls us. Human beings, even strangers, recognize each other in the context of a    spiritual setting.

3. Connection is always present as a bridge between those who have gone before and those who come after.

4. Spirit is in charge of continuity.

Inspired by the presence of our future - the many children attending the Vigil, including a large contingent from the Ahkwesahsne Freedom School of Mohawk Territories - we were deeply moved by the prayers for harmony and peace with each other and with the Earth for the 17th year in a row on the National Mall. Old and new traditions from many lands and many cultures melded into a deep flow of connection. An organic farmer from the UK in his sixties, who rang the church bells in his village back home, took communion for the first time in his life at the Christian service at the Prayer Vigil Sunday morning. As the Prayer Vigil drew towards a close, as often happens, nature responded to the circle below with a unique sign. This time we witnessed an amazing rainbow around the bright sun in an otherwise clear blue sky: a little resonance from the world around us to remind us of the effectiveness of gathering together in peace and prayer. It was an uplifting two days.

The 18th annual Prayer Vigil was a partnership among the Prayer Vigil for the Earth, Turtle Women Rising and the many faith groups that have participated at the annual gathering over the past 18 years. Throughout the four day Vigil (October 8-11, 2010) rotating drummers kept the beat of Turtle Women Rising's magnificent drum, Kiya's (Grandmother's) Heartbeat, going day and night.

When other faith groups shared their offerings, whether the energetic chanting of the Sufi Zikr ceremony or the Shumei Taiko Drums, or a quiet story telling or ceremony from the microphone, Kiya's Heartbeat would drop back to a supportive murmur. At other times the drumming and many good singers around the drum were the central focus of prayer. There was good synergy.

The partnership with Turtle Women Rising and its founder, Eli Painted Crow, and co-founder Deborah Guerrero worked out exceptionally well. Their ceremonies honoring the veterans present and taking a stand for peace merged well with the ceremonies honoring the Earth.

Around the circle were the familiar sights of the Jyorei Healing tent, the Labyrinth to walk in contemplation, Zoroastrian prayers, and tipis for quiet prayer. Songs of Rabbi David Shneyer, Mother Taylor offering her Yoruba songs, Dr. Zulu and the African drums in memory of Baba Ngoma (Father Drum), and many other contributions made the Vigil as memorable as ever. Like the ripples out from the pebble thrown into a pond, our prayers continue to go out into the world.

The gathering was blessed by the combined wisdom, which totals more than 900 years, of several of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. As she always does, Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim put her hand out for a drumstick as she acknowledged the drummers at the drum. Soon after, Grandmother Mona Polacca, Grandmother Tsering, Grandmother's Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance and her sister Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance joined the sacred hoop to sing and enjoy this common bond. The magic of the Grandmother's was evident as they spoke from their hearts, through prayer at the sacred fire, the drum, and offered ancient prayer ceremonies to all who circled in silence. Many received these blessings with grace, and seemed to walk away visibly touched, moved, and inspired.

The World Peace Prayer Ceremony led the All the Flags of the World in Prayer, sponsored by the World Peace Prayer Society. People joined together to bring peace to our hearts and our planet through the prayer "May Peace Prevail on Earth." This prayer for world peace carries a message of great hope and healing. It transcends barriers of nationality, race and religion to unite humanity in a call for the common good of all life on Earth.

Several gifts from nature occurred during our gathering underscoring our efforts for peace and unity. On Saturday, after words about the importance of water were expressed on the microphone, it rained hard for a few minutes out of the clear blue sky above us. A highlight of the last day was a visit from a large hawk just outside the circle that swooped down to take a squirrel. The hawk, sacred to many traditions, was unable to lift her prey so sat there guarding it for a long time, giving a close look at our winged sister, unusual in such an urban setting. We express gratitude for a visitor from the sky realm and recognize its call to each of us to honor where we came from and where we will return. May we walk softly together on this Earth during our time here.

This year's Prayer Vigil, wet and cold as it was, offered a time of intimacy, prayer and connection with each other and with the Mother. One fire, one tipi, one circle. The hardy souls who braved the weekend were all blessed with a beautiful double rainbow on Sunday. We were all in awe and joy with the shear majesty of the rainbow as you will see in the photos.

We thank Shumei Taiko Drummers for braving the inclement weather and presenting their drum prayers Saturday. As we all huddled in the tip for warmth and companionship, Shumei continued their drumming. Spirits soared as we exchanged our meditations and offerings to Mother Earth.

Sunday brought Mary Sunbeam and her celebration for the youth. It was at this time that Mother Nature blessed us with the double rainbow, bringing us to tears of joy and a sense of rejuvenation and being blessed.