Tag Archives: Going Powhatan

Going Powhatan #2: Bathing Cold

Rountree’s “The Powhatan Indians of Virginia”

The first book I read about the natives of Virginia was Helen C. Rountree’s The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.   It’s the most referenced book on the subject written to date, and Rountree is the foremost living expert on Virginia’s natives.  You can take issue with some aspect of Rountree’s work if you like, but you cannot sidestep her.  Read and contend with Rountree or you don’t know squat.

And the first thing I learned from Rountree about the Powhatan that deeply impressed me was the bit about the cold baths. According to her historical references, the Powhatan were as clean as people living in huts could be, mainly because each morning they all migrated down to the local water source to bathe – regardless of the weather. She also said that, to harden them to the cold, babies were bathed as well.

Allow me to insert a paragraph break so you can let that sink in a second.

Cold baths are no laughing matter. I had previously done cold baths indoors as part of various training regimens I’ve tried over the years. Let’s just say that the subject comes up in martial arts circles. Armed forces from the Spartains of Ancient Greece to the Seals at Naval Base Coronado attest to the power of cold water to awaken the warrior within. But outdoors? I started this program in an October considerably warmed by climate change. Even so, bathing cold outdoors in the winter seemed a little nutty. And yet there was a resonance I couldn’t deny, a strange synchronicity I couldn’t ignore.

The original Cabal Fang Temple before the new paint job in 2019

In my suburban yard I have a 9’ by 14’ shed that is finished like a tiny house with insulation and heat that we’ve been calling “the temple” since moving to the property 20 years ago. We started calling it “The Cabal Fang Temple” when I founded Cabal Fang martial arts in 2009, a name we borrowed when we founded our the 501 (c)(3) non-profit Cabal Fang Temple, Inc. Cabal Fang is Hermetic martial arts (for more information please visit www.cabalfang.com) and, on the surface of it at least, has very little if anything to do with primitive skills, my love for Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts, or the “Going Powhatan” project at all.  Although, due to lack of money, Cabal Fang has always been taught on the grass at local parks 12 months a year, so there’s that little bit of overlap in terms of “outdoorsiness” I suppose. But there was also a strange coincidence.  At the time I was reading Rountree’s book, I was struggling with what to do about remodeling the temple. The plan was to transform it from a hybrid space into a proper chapel, to make it a purely spiritual building and move my martial arts training to a new building to be constructed elsewhere on the property.

The stumbling block was money. I didn’t have the funds to construct a new building. And yet I was feeling the call to move forward in a powerful way. And so, when I read about the Powhatans’ daily bathing in cold streams, I had my answer: suck it up and train outdoors. What was the big deal? That’s how we train in the Cabal Fang club. At the park there’s a picnic shelter for refuge from rain, sleet and snow, and I have covered patio here at the house. The whole problem was in my head. Cabal Fang is always practiced outdoors. Why would Cabal Fang ever need an indoor training space? And why should a Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts instructor and primitive skills expert like me ever whine about the loss of indoor training space? But this is how human beings can be. We fear change, we miss the obvious, and we like our lives soft and cushy.

Powhatan bath

My “Going Powhatan” wash basin

I immediately went out and bought one of those heavy-duty resin storage sheds for a couple of hundred bucks and moved all the martial arts gear out of the temple so I could start the renovation. My next purchase was a one-gallon galvanized pan which I put that on my patio table, and next to it a watering can. Every morning about 6 AM, before I start my martial arts training, I pour a little water into that pan, strip to the waist, and wash up.

Next Time: Training the Hunter


If you liked this post…

There’s a good chance you’d love my e-book The Wildwood Workbook: Nature Appreciation and SurvivalClick here to download it in any format.  35 exercises guaranteed to deepen your relationship with nature and get your heart and mind engaged like never before.  120 pages.

Want to study Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts?  Click here to enroll in the Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts distance learning program for just $19,99/month — all learning materials, testing and certificates included (and a free hat and t-shirt when you sign up too).

Steam Power: Silence, Speech, and the Word

Speech has a sacred component, words have power, and into the things we name we breathe steam.  Be careful what you name.

Watch video below for more details.



TWO MARTIAL ARTS DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS AVAILABLE. 100% free and operated through my non-profit, Cabal Fang is martial arts for personal development, self-defense and fitness. Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts is just $19.99/month and that’s your choice if you’re interested in Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble — the fighting arts, survival skills, lifeways and ethos of the colonial and indigenous peoples of North American during the frontier period (1607 – 1912). What are you waiting for — enroll today!

General Update: Mettlecraft Month, Temple, etc.

  • Mettlecraft month is halfway through — not too late to join in!  Click here for details.
  • Temple remodel is moving forward.  This weekend I started working on the altar, took down the old tapestries, etc.
  • Powhatan language study is progressing.  I’ve moved beyond just numbers and vocabulary and started memorizing verb conjugations.

Watch video below for more details.



TWO MARTIAL ARTS DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS AVAILABLE. 100% free and operated through my non-profit, Cabal Fang is martial arts for personal development, self-defense and fitness. Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts is just $19.99/month and that’s your choice if you’re interested in Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble — the fighting arts, survival skills, lifeways and ethos of the colonial and indigenous peoples of North American during the frontier period (1607 – 1912). What are you waiting for — enroll today!

Going Powhatan #1: Speaking Powhatan

strachey powhatan

Some of Strachey’s Powhatan words in his actual hand

According to the National Museum of the American Indian, over 500 native languages were spoken in North America prior to European contact.  Of those 500 languages, the Catalog of Endangered Languages reports that only 150 are still spoken today.  There were thousands of tribes as well, of which only about 600 remain. 

 

strachey powhatan

The number of tribes the diversity of languages bears out what we find in historical accounts and archaeological finds, which is that 

the native tribes of North America were insular, territorial and, for want of a better word, grumpy.  Ritual violence, intertribal warfare, conflict, dispute and bloodshed were a part of daily life.  In addition to their words, they did a fair amount of their talking with weaponry.

Just because they didn’t shy away from a fight doesn’t mean their languages weren’t rich, beautiful and complex.  I know this because, as part of this project, I decided I should learn how to speak Powhatan.  But I soon found out that Powhatan was one of first indigenous languages to go extinct.  Powhatan, or Virginia Algonquian, hasn’t been spoken since the 1790s.  Fortunately though, Willam Strachey, an English writer who made it to to Virginia after being stranded in Bermuda by the shipwreck of the Sea Venture, wrote extensively on the language and culture of the Virginia’s natives.¹   We have his word lists, as well as John Smith’s.  And thanks to linguists like Frank Siebert and Blair Rudes, who have poured over the work of Stachey and Smith and put together partial reconstructions, we have at least the skeleton of Virginia Algonquian.

As soon as you jump in four things jump right back at you.  First, Powhatan has provided American English with more loan words than any other indigenous tongue.  Raccoon, opossum, tomahawk, hominy, terrapin, hickory, chum, moccasin and persimmon all come from Powhatan, and that’s just the short list.²

Second, it’s an agglutinating language.  Word order isn’t all that important because you just keep adding prefixes, suffixes and circumfixes onto the root word until you get the meaning you want. A properly conjugated verb is a sentence unto itself. 

Third, it’s an action language.  Verbs are conjugated based on whether they are transitive or intransitive and nouns are declined based on if they are proximate (nearby) or obviative (over there).  This is a language designed to tell you what’s moving, what’s not moving, and who’s doing what to who.

And fourth, it’s hard to learn.  The two biggest snares are that it has very little in common with English and there’s nobody to practice conversation with.  But hopefully that conversation problem will dissipate.  There are people trying to bring the language back.  The Patawomeck tribe up in Stafford, Virginia are teaching language classes using the materials Blair Rudes prepared for the movie The New World, and the Eastern Woodlands Revitalization Project is also spearheading an effort.³

For the time being though, I’m on my own.


¹ Strachey, William. 1610-1612. The Historie of Travaile Into Virginia Britannia Ed. Richard Henry Major. London: Hakluyt Society, 1849.

² Siebert, Frank. 1975. “Resurrecting Virginia Algonquian from the dead: The reconstituted and historical phonology of Powhatan,” Studies in Southeastern Indian Languages. Ed. James Crawford. Athens: University of Georgia Press, pp. 285–453.

³ Rudes, Blair. 2006. “Giving Voice to Powhatan’s People: The Creation of Virginia Algonquian Dialog for ‘The New World’” Paper written for Coastal Carolina Indian Center.

Next Time: Bathing Cold


If you liked this post…

There’s a good chance you’d love my e-book The Wildwood Workbook: Nature Appreciation and SurvivalClick here to download it in any format.  35 exercises guaranteed to deepen your relationship with nature and get your heart and mind engaged like never before.  120 pages.

Want to study Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts?  Click here to enroll in the Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts distance learning program for just $19,99/month — all learning materials, testing and certificates included (and a free hat and t-shirt when you sign up too).

Going Powhatan: Introduction

tomahawk knife spoon gourd basket

tomahawk, knife, spoon, gourd water bottle, and basket (all but tomahawk and knife made by me)

I’ve been into primitive skills, nature appreciation, and survival for twenty years.  But when I read a book about monks in October of 2020 — yes, a book about monks — something really clicked.

 

And after reading this book I saw that I had grown a somewhat complacent in my primitive skills — that it was time to take my training to the next level.  But that’s not all I realized.

The timing was what one might call propitious.

Over the preceding six months I had begun to have increasing difficulty reconciling my love of martial arts with my enrollment in Ekklesia Epignostika Seminary in pursuit of Holy Orders in the Old Catholic faith.   But when I read A Different Christianity, Robin Amis’ book about the Orthodox monks of Mount Athos in Greece, and learned about how they think, act, feel and believe, I saw a hint of something shared. Things started making sense in a way they never have before.

amis a different christianity

It became clear to me that there were footprints running through all three territories — martial arts, religion and primitive skills — and those prints were the lifeways of the native peoples who once inhabited my home state of Virginia.

So to fully knit together all of my passions, and wend my way toward integration of mind, body and spirit, I decided to follow those footprints wherever they may lead.  This is my journey into unexplored territory — the lifeways of the historic Powhatan people.

Next time: Learning to speak the Powhatan Language


If you liked this post…

There’s a good chance you’d love my e-book The Wildwood Workbook: Nature Appreciation and SurvivalClick here to download it in any format.  35 exercises guaranteed to deepen your relationship with nature and get your heart and mind engaged like never before.  120 pages.

Want to study Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble martial arts?  Click here to enroll in the Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts distance learning program for just $19,99/month — all learning materials, testing and certificates included (and a free hat and t-shirt when you sign up too).

 

 

General Update: Powhatan, Martial Arts, Temple, etc.

If you try to stay in place the world will pass you by.  Like the vine of the grape, we must grow and climb or else we will stagnate and be overgrown.

Things are changing in these parts, so watch this space!



TWO MARTIAL ARTS DISTANCE LEARNING PROGRAMS AVAILABLE. 100% free and operated through my non-profit, Cabal Fang is martial arts for personal development, self-defense and fitness. Bobcat Frontier Martial Arts is just $19.99/month and that’s your choice if you’re interested in Frontier Rough ‘n’ Tumble — the fighting arts, survival skills, lifeways and ethos of the colonial and indigenous peoples of North American during the frontier period (1607 – 1912). What are you waiting for — enroll today!