his early days as a devout minister to his second life as a Cherokee chief
and medicine man, C.W. Duncan '56 (BD '59) has been...
backwards to God
overslept. When he rose, he hastened to Grandfather, knowing he was late
for the naming ceremony. Poor Coyote, he had proudly bragged he would
be first in line and receive a noble name. Now he would be stuck with
Coyote, which means imitator. Grandfather took pity on the dejected Coyote
and gave him a special duty... "When lives stumble out of balance,
you shall be the one chosen to stabilize them." To this day, Coyote
remains very proud to be special, and while he always endeavors to do
good, like many of us, he is thwarted by his ego and appetites. So beware.
The mischievous Coyote lurks nearby to give you a helping hand when your
world is out of balance.
C. W. Duncan
'56 (BD '59) chuckles as he relates the story of Coyote, an important
character in the Cherokee storytelling tradition.
as Grandpa Sings-Alone, Duncan knows Coyote well -- the troublemaker has
shadowed him his entire life. Coyote did his job effectively, Duncan says,
pushing him through troubles and trials to an unusual balance in life.
spent my whole life running toward my spirituality," Duncan said. "But
to find my religion, my own way of serving and worshipping, I've gotten
there backwards." With Coyote nipping at his heels, Duncan has moved from
Christian minister to psychologist to Grandfather Chief of the Free Cherokees.
His circuitous path to his spiritual roots has landed him contented in
the role of professional storyteller, author and medicine man.
The son of
a respected Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor and a Anglo-assimilated
Cherokee mother, Duncan knew from a very young age he would enter the
ministry. His course set, Duncan entered Brite Divinity School in 1956,
his new bride Rose Nell Hehl '56 (whom he met the first day of his first
freshman class at TCU) in tow.
after settling into training, Duncan and his wife found themselves seeking
answers to why they had not been blessed with children.
prognosis was grim -- Duncan did not produce live sperm. Not willing to accept
the finality of that news, Duncan determined to petition the Lord to heal
him. He had no idea Coyote was lying in wait. One morning Duncan found
his way to the meditation room at Brite, a small, secluded room off the
chapel, where he knelt at a quiet altar.
On the console
in front of him were a few buttons. He pushed several, one of which piped
the soft strains of Sweet Hour of Prayer into the room. Unbeknownst to
Duncan, the music also filled the chapel, where a prominent guest preacher
was waxing eloquent for a house full of fellow seminarians.
raised his voice, determined to compete with the music. At that moment,
Duncan bowed his head and offered his fervent petition, which not only
reached God but boomed into the chapel: Puleeze God, let my sperm live
and swim strongly upstream.
the meditation room flew open, and a red-faced dean yelled, Get out! Now!
Duncan chuckles. "I couldn't imagine what caused such violent agitation.
Only later, and with great pleasure, did my fellow students enlighten
later, Duncan and his wife welcomed the first of their four children.
The small family was sent to minister in Frisco, following the footsteps
of another recent seminary graduate named Billy Tucker, who would later
lead TCU as chancellor for 19 years.
behind, continuing to exasperate Duncan. While performing his first baptisms,
Duncan misjudged the water's depth and slammed an unusually tall parishioner's
head against a cement step, knocking him silly.
first hospital visit as a minister, the new preacher inadvertently kicked
the catheter bag of a blind, dying patient, jerking the tube suddenly
out of the poor woman. Horrified, Duncan silently turned and quick-stepped
it anonymously down the hall past the nursing station, commenting to them
that he heard someone cry out who might need attention.
As the years
moved forward, Duncan continued to be perplexed by the prodding of Coyote,
pokes that eventually led him to leave the ministry to practice psychology.
His 17-year marriage floundered and Duncan ran smack into his Cherokee
to Coyote's prods, Duncan spent several years serving as a psychologist
to the Mojave Indian tribes before finding his way to Maryland where George
Whitewolf, a Monacan/Sioux spiritual leader, mentored him into the Native
American spiritual world.
All the while,
he continued to practice psychology, focusing on people with severe dissociate
disorders and writing his first book, The Fractured Mirror: Healing
Multiple Personality Disorder. He laughingly refers to that as his
last gift to psychology.
Duncan also met his soul mate and now-wife Priscilla Cogan, an award-winning
author and psychologist who joins him in the Indian traditions and practices.
Now a storyteller and medicine man, Duncan conducts pipe and sweatlodge
audience has changed a bit over the years, Duncan continues to do what
he knew he'd always do . . . minister and heal. His stories and methods
are just different than before.
spiritual teachings in even the most unseemly of tales," he said. "The
Indian way of praying is just that . . . a way of centering, getting grounded
with grandmother earth. You don't have to not be anything else to do that.
Gutterman was in the sweatlodge, he was still a Jew, and when Father Tom
was there, he was still a priest.
It is not
a conflict with anyone's faith to be part of the ceremonial life of the
tribes. In fact, many of the medicine men are Christians."
and Cogan spend their days between Massachusetts and Michigan where they
write and share their experiences through presentations and workshops.
Both are celebrated storytellers, a gift Duncan has had since he was a
stories are available on CD, one of which -- Grandpa Sing-Alone's Favorite
Tales -- was chosen as a 2000 Parents' Choice Award. He's also working on
a new series of original tales of his own creation, based on a figure
he calls Grandpa Fry Bread, a congenial character who is as big around
as he is tall.
But his favorites
are traditional Indian tales, and many center around Coyote, for he knows
he is a bit of one himself.
a little Coyote in all of us and a lot of Coyote in some," Duncan said.
"Truly troublesome, our own human perversity becomes Coyote's best tool.
Consider the number of national leaders who have worked hard for the people
but allowed lechery, greed and egotism to tarnish their image and render
the way of Coyote."
about Duncan's life in Sprinting Backwards to God, his most recent book.
Order it at www.twocanoespress.com