In a quiet setting filled with the sounds of the birds overhead and nestled among the trees and hills in Milford sits the Cedar Water Healing Lodge, founded by Hartland resident Gayle Joseph.
Joseph, who is a wife, mother and former corporate executive is also a healer and an elder who has gone back to her Native American beliefs.
Opened four years ago, the business of the Lodge is to provide natural healing options for physical and emotional pain and illness. Using several traditional and ancient Native American rituals such as a medicine wheel, sweat lodge and labyrinth, Joseph and her staff work to provide their clients with alternative methods to healing their bodies and souls.
"My role really is to help them understand and to help them through," Joseph said. "When people are going through chemo and radiation, they get so sick. I can prevent that, I can keep them from getting sick. And that's mostly why people come."
Married in a Catholic church, Joseph and her husband Mike, who is a math teacher at , sent their three daughters to Catholic school while they were growing up.
Over the years, however, Joseph practiced and studied many different forms of religion, including Budhism, and eventually worked her way back to her Cherokee roots.
"This is where I belong," she said. "This is me. It's not about religion. None of this is about religion. It's about the connections."
Many of the clients may come for healing purposes, but the Lodge also offers ceremonies such a new moon or full moon ceremonies, that are primarily for women, and are free of charge and open to anyone who wants to explore their spirituality, according to Joseph.
"The new moon (ceremony) is primarily for healing mother Earth," Joseph said. "My belief is that Mother Earth is the most sacred thing you can have. Without Mother Earth we have nothing and so it’s all about healing Mother Earth, cleansing the waters, getting rid of the toxins."
Workshops on different topics are also offered as are private healing and therapy sessions with Joseph.
A Natural Healer
Joseph, who says she has the natural ability to put her hands on someone and see what is wrong with their body or even pieces of a person's life, treats many clients through different forms of therapy. Her gift is something she says she has been able to do her whole life and credits her ancestors and the spirits that surround her work that help her heal and support her clients.
"I work in spirit," she said. "I tell people -- I'm not a healer -- I'm just there. I'm told what to do. It's as though I step aside and somebody else does whatever."
For many of her regular clients who are battling long-term serious illnesses, most commonly stage four cancers, Joseph says that by the time they get to her, many of them are too far-gone to cure. Many of of her clients, however, are just looking for other peaceful alternatives to some of the harsh modern medicines.
"I have one client who is going through his third bout of cancer," Joseph said. "The first time he did chemo, the second time, surgery. Now he doesn't want to do anything. He just comes to see me, two or three times before he has his blood drawn and I take care of him- and he's been good. He's been clean."
Being able to feel or sense an illness in a person's body isn't scary for Joseph. What is scary, she says, is when people ask to know what's wrong.
"That’s scary cause I don’t like to tell people," she said. "But if they ask me I’ll tell them."
Helping to guide and heal her clients while offering them advice and support in their illnesses or overcoming their grief or trauma is Joseph's number one focus.
"What I do, once I start working on a person whether they're dying or unhappy, once I put my hand on someone I see their essence," she said.
Many of her clients will also request her presence before their passing, and Joseph has been there, holding the hands of several of the people she has treated, including the hand of her best friend who passed one year ago.
"She was laying in her bed and her husband came in," Joseph said describing the day her friend passed. "That was her wish, that the two of us be there. And so I knew she was going, I knew she was going before the end of the day. I said to her, 'Are you ready to walk with me?'... And although she couldn't speak I heard her say 'yes, let's go.' And that was it. She was gone."
Taking her friend's ashes, Joseph then spread her friend's ashes in a ceremonial burial service and she says that sometimes she can feel her friend's presence around her.
"I want people to just come"
The Lodge welcomes everyone, no matter their race or religious beliefs since, according to Joseph, eveyone could have a little Native American blood in them.
In June, the Cedar Water Lodge is hosting a 3-day Ancient Wisdom for the 2012 Transformation event. Registration is required and will include healing ceremonies and break-out sessions where people will have the opportunity to learn more about Women's Moon Teachings, Ancient Herbs & Healing and the Medicine Wheel.
"We have a lot of people who come here that are in recovery and sometimes I use this (medicine wheel) to help people understand where they are in their life," she said. "It’s an amazing tool."
The , which Joseph says will be a community gathering and not a Pow Wow, will take place outside under the arbor which is currently under construction. Joseph encourages everyone who is interested in Native American customs, healing, ceremonies, traditions and rituals to attend the June gathering, but also encourages everyone to use her facilities when they need it.
"What my goal is, I want people to just come," Joseph said. "That's what I want. All the stuff that we have outside, people can come any time during the day and use it. I see people walking the labrynth all the time and that's great. That's what this is about."