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The Creation of Earth Dance

Updated: Sep 6, 2021

“Earth Dance” Pastel by Kim McElroy – Prints and Merchandise Available

In the dance of life We are surrounded by seen and unseen partners Each guide enters our circle when called To bring their gifts and their wisdom Even when we don’t feel like dancing We can place our feet on the earth and listen The drumbeat of our heart sets the rhythm Grounding us to Gaia Connecting with Nature With something larger than ourselves Allows us to feel expanded rather than smaller We can give thanks and acknowledge the mystery ~ Kim McElroy

In 2008 Nicole contacted me to commission Soul Essence portraits of her horses. She sent photos and descriptions of her horses, among which was her palomino gelding, Cutter. She said he was a horse who reveled in his life and had a particular fondness for rolling in water and mud! He also had an unusual liking for eating leaves. She also told me a story of how once they had a party with a live band and he wanted to be as close as possible to the loud music. He had a unique personality.


The Journey with Cutter

When I prepared to create Cutter’s portrait I engaged in a shamanic journey to ask for symbols to depict his Soul Essence. I played a cd of shamanic drumming by Michael Harner . When I entered the journey realm, there was a being there to greet me. He was sitting upon his haunches as if eagerly awaiting the journey. It was a beaver! He immediately gamboled off, and I rushed to follow him. He dove into a pool, and I went in after him, following him underwater.

We emerged from the pool into a cave. The beaver continued into the dim interior of the cave. As I rounded a corner of the cave opened up into a bigger space and I immediately beheld a fox looking at me, there was a deer, and a bear, and other animals I couldn’t identify. It seemed like a council. They were all sitting around a glowing stone in the center quite large and flat – which glowed with an eerie pale blue-green light. They opened a space for me, and I joined in the circle. I felt honored to be invited.

I told the council that I was here to learn more about Cutter’s soul essence, and I asked for him to impart his wisdom to us and for his owner Nicole. At that moment, the beaver jumped up onto the glowing stone, and his legs began to lengthen, and he grew taller and taller, forming very quickly and naturally into a horse! He was Cutter! I smiled at the new significance of the name “Cutter” and also began to realize that my earlier feelings that there was a connection between the beaver and Cutter was right. Somehow they were connected.

I asked who Cutter was in connection with the beaver and I get the feeling that in this lifetime he wanted to be a horse to work more closely with humans, and specifically Nicole. Given that Cutter was a horse who loved water and mud, and eating leaves, the beaver seemed a fitting alter ego for him.

The Eagle’s Gift

I began to drift, but then roused myself as Cutter was nudging me impatiently. He pushed past me as if beckoning me to hurry and go with him. We emerged from the cave into daylight. I rode Cutter through a beautiful hilly woodland accentuated by distant vistas of streams and ponds. The aspen trees rustled and sparkled in the wind and the light.

As we went along in the vision, I heard an eagle cry overhead, and I looked up, and spinning down towards me, floated a feather. It was a gift from the eagle. I suddenly knew and saw in my mind’s eye what to paint for Cutter. It was a medicine wheel. Immediately some of the animals we had met in the cave took their places – Golden Eagle in the East, Bear in the West, Beaver in the South. But the North was still a mystery.

In the center of the Medicine Wheel, I saw Cutter dancing. I became acutely aware of the drumming of the cd. I felt like the sound and vibration was very important and sacred to him. The drumming was a form of grounding created by his hoofbeats on the ground. I was also reminded of the thumping of the beaver’s tail when it hits the ground, drumming on the earth.

The Hopi Earth Spirit

Somehow the North seemed to represent the element of Earth. I asked my inner voice and waited for an answer. I traveled to another place and saw a glimpse of ancient ruins. I felt that they were from the Hopi Nation. Then I saw the colors green and red. I felt there was to be a Hopi Earth god to be depicted in the North.

Then the drumming began called us back, so Cutter and I both ran back to our meeting place in the cave. Cutter changed from horse to beaver, and back to horse again.

Confirmations of the Visions

Immediately after the meditation, I sketched what I had envisioned. Cutter was dancing in the center. Beaver was in the South, Eagle in the East, Bear in the West, and some mystery being representing a Hopi Earth god would be in the North.

I began by googling Hopi Earth God and I discovered he is called “Maasaw,” also written as “Masauwu” or “Masau.” He is responsible for the Earth’s surface. He is the creator of fire and the ruler of the underworld. I was amazed when I read his shawl is usually depicted in green and red!

Upon discovering this, I was a bit taken aback. I wasn’t sure how Nicole would feel about me depicting a god representing death in Cutter’s painting. But as I began to understand what this god represents, I realized that we are all “dancing with death” and that he is a powerful symbol for he carries the souls safely to the place where they will be reborn.

Maasaw, also known as Skeleton Man, and as Lord of the Dead, teaches the Hopi people to live a simple and self-sufficient life. He was known to offer a bag of seeds, a gourd of water, a digging stick and a cloak, demonstrating virtue through hard work and cultivation of the land. If the Hopi people dedicated life to their agricultural duties and respect for nature, Maasaw promised to watch over them and ensure a smooth passage into the afterlife. ~ Kachina House Blog

Later, when my friend Leta who is an intuitive healer, saw the painting, she said Maasaw is a being of power and that his presence in the picture gives energetic power to Cutter and that the art itself could accomplish that for others too. In my research, I discovered that in the sacred Kiwa where Hopi ceremonies take place, there is always a “hole” the “Sipapuni” through which the People entered this world. This hole is often covered with a stone. This story reminded me of the glowing stone on which the beaver changed into Cutter. In the Hopi creation beliefs, all people came from the underworld, which was so similar to the cave of my vision.

I learned that medicine wheels were initially created as a circle of stones on the Earth made in sacred sites and designed for healing. This symbol was certainly a powerful one for a horse who was partnering with his human for healing.

The Creation of the Art

Nicole had requested that I create the paintings of her horses in my Spirit Sketch Style, which is usually depicted in colorful lines. I wanted to include more detail, and I felt there was a new aspect of this style that wanted to emerge.

I researched inspirations for Beaver, Eagle, and Bear, and created drawings of them. I loved the sketch of the beaver – he had the forthright attitude of the beaver in my vision.

When I transposed my sketches onto the pastel paper. I was immediately challenged by what to create in the vast areas of space outside the circle. I researched the colors of the medicine wheel in the Hopi tradition, and the colors seemed fitting to the qualities of the animals. Then I realized I wanted to create the colors extending out like rays of energy extending from the circle.

Once I had drawn these colors I knew I wanted to create the center of the wheel as the earth. I had the impulse to make the soil look like sand with shapes or ripples. It was literally like a “round pen” ! Talk about a modern form of a Medicine Wheel! As I began choosing colors for the soil, my hand drew a swirl, and I suddenly saw a random pattern that would become the earth – with swirls of motion and dust rising from the dance.

At first, I didn’t know how to keep the linear quality of the line drawings but also have the details of the fur and feathers. I started with the beaver. I selected the color purple and created his outline in purple, and then drew the details of hair inside those lines. Then I realized how this new style was forming as the details of the real animal inside the spirit lines – almost like inlaid stones in native silver jewelry – or lines of energy surrounding the animal. Cutter’s dappled coat reminded me of the swirls in the earth inside the medicine wheel – so I created him with swirls of dapples.


I could only find two images of Maasaw after hours of research. One was a kachina – a sacred carving, and the other one was a painting by Alfred Dawahoya. I wanted this “death god” not to look too threatening if that was at all possible.

I had read in a book about Native American art and spirituality that native artists will sometimes paint their gods, but it is essential to give the god a “way out” of the painting. They insert a line in the art extending to the edge or leave a thread of a rug sticking out, to allow the god to come and go. Therefore the god is not “trapped” in the art. So I created Maasaw at the very edge of the art, surrounded by spirit lines in black, the color of mystery.

Close Encounters

While I was creating the art, our beloved goat Rhiannon crossed over. It seemed the Earth god of the underworld was visiting us personally. I took a break from the work to honor Rhia’s passing. When I was ready to begin again, I painted the bear. The bear was fun to create. I chose bright orange energy, and I loved how his eyes turned out.

In the days preceding my preparation to paint Maasaw, my friend’s dog, Myah was diagnosed with cancer, and she began failing quickly. I offered a shamanic journey for my friend in which her horse, who had also just passed a month before, came to help prepare her to release Myah. It was a powerful meditation.

Because of these connections I was even more aware of the edge of life and death. I began painting Maasaw in an attitude of prayer for Myah, for Rhia, and for Cutter. I held a sacred commitment to do my best to create Maasaw’s image correctly. I was very focused, and I felt drained when I completed his drawing. Yet it was a good feeling. As I finished, the sun shone through my window and landed directly on the god! I felt this was a blessing and an acknowledgment that I had done well.

A sign from Maasaw

I felt led throughout the creation of “Earth Dance.” Even though these sacred symbols are not of my ethnic origin, I hope that I have conveyed them in a way that is meaningful and respectful. I felt my intuition, and my inspirations were essential and relevant to the painting of Cutter, and I am touched and humbled by the journey he continues to take us all on.

We asked Kim to connect with each horse’s essence to gain inspiration on how the horse wanted to be represented. The reveal of each painting was the most magical experience, Kim truly captured each horse’s soul. And, receiving the beautiful description and messages Kim received during each journey made the whole process even more meaningful. We love living with Kim’s art. Being surrounded by her paintings is our way of bringing the horses into our home. Nicole Birkholzer – Author, Animal Communicator –
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