Both photos were taken at last year’s dance. This year we were asked not to photograph the ceremony, yet some did anyway. This lack of respect appalls me.
Christmas day dawned thick with clouds… This morning I even imagined I saw snow on the mesa… an illusion, but perhaps a harbinger of the healing moisture that could bring life to the cracked red, ochre, sea green earth, her wild grasses, cactus and trees. Our beloved desert is parched – in desperate need of rain or snow.
When I heard the call of the Great Horned owl from my friend Iren’s house I felt a flicker of hope and peace running through this tired animal body that strives to meet the coming day.
My dove sang his beautiful morning song in response to the Great Horned owl. These curious exchanges between predator and prey baffle me. Great Horned Owl is fierce, and aptly named “Tiger of the Sky” and yet these two birds are apparently communicating something of import to one another!
Late yesterday afternoon, Christmas Eve, I went with friends to the Pueblo of Okay Owingeh (San Juan) to witness the spectacular dance of the Matachines. This ceremony has roots in both Pueblo and Hispanic traditions of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and revolves around the young Indigenous maiden, the Matachine, and a bull, also an Indian child, the latter of which is symbolically killed and castrated at the end of the performance as his seed is scattered to bring new life to the people.
This story sounds grim to those unfamiliar with world mythology but its theme mirrors that of those gods of vegetation like Attis who were sacrificed for the very same reason, to bring forth new life. The mythological roots of this ceremony extend back through time to the earliest Great Mother and her Consort stories, and for me it is very satisfying to witness these stunning dancers with their rainbow colored regalia, ribbons flowing in every direction and the impressive mitered headdresses, the sound of drums and bells as they pass by the luminaries or fires that are lit in the courtyards. At sunset the dance is reenacted in each of the four plazas and ends up at the church where it began, as dusk turns to night. Last night the sky was on fire. The moving crowds of mostly Pueblo people made it hard to see the dancers at times, but for me it was enough simply to be there.
The Pentitentes, or Brothers, associated with the Pueblo’s religious observances, chant “Ave Maria, Madre de Dios” (Hail Mary, Mother of God) in somber voices as the procession proceeds from plaza to plaza, each symbolizing one of the four directions. I certainly have the feeling that this chant is much more significant than the simple mantra that appears to belong to the Catholic tradition. What I hear is a universal prayer and entreaty for a Blessing for the people, the animals, plants, trees, and Earth from our Beloved Mother of the World.
To say that this ceremony is moving is an understatement. I feel as if I am participating in a ritual that returns me to the origins of humankind.