Four Worlds

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Above: a Kaye

 

They came from

Life giving Waters,

emerging from a Lake

at the Beginning of time.

Avanyu –

Serpent,

Spirit of the River

pecked into stone

or painted

on canyon walls

embodies their story.

 

The Tewa settled above

the Great River Banks.

Roaring water flowed

through tributaries

mountain gorges.

The People gave thanks.

Water meant Life.

Each village was the center

of the Tewa’s First world.

 

Bound together by

Women who tended

holy household shrines,

prayed for rain,

created fires,

gathered seed,

ground food,

grew babies,

dug clay to shape

earthen pots.

This was the Second world

of the Tewa.

 

In the hills the men

hunted animals

for food and skins.

Both women and men

ploughed fields,

cultivating maize

as the Corn Mother

blessed them and

instructed them to do.

 

Here too were Kayes

Basalt stones shaped by

mortar and cupules

that marked

cardinal directions,

and burial middens.

Tewa communed with the dead.

Ancestors traversed Four Worlds

before returning to still waters.

 

The men danced prayers

bore holes in stone faces.

The women pounded

rock to awaken

the spirits at sunrise –

prepared medicines

and prayers in

this Third world

of the Tewa.

 

Far beyond the hills,

the men prayed for rain…

Four sacred mountains

held each village

in Earth’s peaceful embrace.

Earth, wind, fire and water,

North, east, south and west –

Four elements and directions

guided the People

in this Fourth world

of the Tewa.

 

Postscript:

 

This poem was written as a result of visiting a few of the pueblo ruins in this area, reflecting upon the meaning behind what I experienced especially with respect to the stones I encountered, going to the Pueblo dances, and before doing some research on the stones about which I knew nothing.

 

Kayes, the Tewa word for certain basalt stones helped me to enter the world of the Tewa on a deeper level when I discovered that their primary purpose was to help the people communicate with the spirit world… According to the Tewa the Kayes were places where offerings were made and the rock itself was also pounded to attract the attention of the spirits. The resulting, usually round, depressions are called cupules by anthropologists and they can be found on both the top and sides of certain rocks around the ruins. Sometimes these stones also had mortars for grinding and some sources suggest that women gathered in these places to prepare medicines. It is said that at certain times of the year the Tewa continue to gather at these stones for ceremony.

Stories the Stones Tell

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Metate

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The potshard in the center seems to have a “face”… although I bring some of these artifacts home for closer inspection it is part of my spiritual practice to return them to the land.

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Mano

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Avanyu, spirit of the waters

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The storied land

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Another view of the stones that tell stories.

A couple of days ago I was climbing a mesa with my friend Iren who is “a guide to the wild places” – those places off the beaten track where stories are told by the stones and the Earth that supports them.

As a severely directionally dyslexic person who cannot tell her left from right navigating this hidden world would be impossible without Iren’s deep knowledge of this land, her expertise, and her love for stone.

As we climbed through mountains of human garbage and four wheeler tracks we discovered potsherds at our feet. Picking up the predominantly black and white pieces for inspection I found myself wondering about the women (and children) who gathered the clay, shaped it into pots, and fired the vessels to store food. There are so many untold women’s stories hidden in these clay fragments…

Female scholarship (see Marija Gimbutas, Buffie Johnson, and more recently women scholars like Helen Hye Sook Hwang, Susan Hawthorne, and Carol Christ’s tireless research in women’s prehistory to mention just a few – reminds us that women have been fashioning clay vessels and sculptures for millennia. The imprint of women’s hand prints can be seen on Neolithic goddess sculptures and pots throughout the world.

Here in Abiquiu and the surrounding high desert I wonder what specific activities these women might have been engaged in. We found a plethora of the black and white fragmented clay pots (some with very thick rims) of Indigenous Anasazi peoples who preceded later Pueblo cultures. I am especially drawn to the black and white shards that seem to have faces or are tree -like. Occasionally I spot a potshard made from red or micacious clay, a relic from later Indigenous inhabitants of this area. I wondered if the women ground these ancient artifacts into temper to strengthen the newer clay they dug and shaped into vessels for firing.

We studied the landscape around us for more clues to its original inhabitants. Iren spotted a petroglyph pecked into the rock. Avanyu, the Tewa Pueblo serpent, spirit of the waters, also lives here. We were overlooking a stunning valley with interlocking arroyos and even in drought we could see evidence of underground water seeping to the surface, dampening desert sand. I wondered if there were hidden springs somewhere on the mesa. There were so many potsherds that I speculated… Were some clay vessels actually made here, or more likely, maybe this was simply another very large self sustaining Indigenous Pueblo community… On this hill there were also many volcanic boulders, some appeared to have been deliberately placed in a circle…

Even more fascinating were the stones that were smoothed and hollowed out by women grinding foodstuffs into flour. I was surprised to see so many of these in one relatively small area indicating that many women (and children) congregated in this one place. These worked stones are called Metates that were and are still used by some Indigenous women to grind seeds, grains, maize into flour to be used in cooking. Some are portable; these were not.

The most unusual feature of these rocks is that there were a number of different sized hollowed out depressions in a single stone. I have a portable metate with three depressions on its upper surface, and Iren has some with depressions that I believe were used to grind lime treated maize during food preparation. But these particular grinding stones not only had hollowed out spaces in the upper surface of the rock but along the sides as well.

Researching possibilities for why this might be so I learned that some immovable metates were used to grind acorns and plant materials of different sizes for medicinal uses on the actual sites where the plants/trees thrived. Since women were also responsible for medicinal healing I guessed that at one time there were roots and herbs that were found here and pulverized into health remedies. Since grinding acorns created small pockets that looked like dimples in the rocks, and we saw a number of these small holes I wondered if at one time oak forests were abundant here. But of course my all of my perceptions are pure speculation because only the land holds the truth of the story.

I spied a suspiciously round volcanic stone and immediately intuited with excitement that I had picked up a mano, the word used to describe the kind of stone that might be used to grind up plant material. I found one many years ago in Tucson, and when I took it to the park’s wildlife center, they confirmed that I had discovered this tool beside one of the arroyos I walked regularly. About a half a mile back I had seen a metate situated on the edge of the arroyo and imagined the women gazing into the talking waters as they worked…

As I wandered over this particular landscape I had the same powerful feeling that I had when I came here the first time – namely that the Earth was attempting to communicate the story of her earlier inhabitants, to us, and perhaps to anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen.

So perhaps my speculations are grounded in the wisdom of Powers of Place that intersect with ordinary time. Stillness, simple questions, and keen attention to the land seem to allow ancient truths to surface through Earth’s body educating those who choose to listen about the lives of the women who lived and worked here so long ago.

Katchinas come to life on April Fools Day

 

 

Hopi-Clowns.jpg Illustrations of clowns from: “Hopi Kachina Tradition Following the Sun and the Moon.”

I awakened this morning thinking about the sacred clowns that belong to the Hopi and the Pueblo people. These unmistakable black and white striped clowns are one of about 400 – 500 different Kachina spirits. Clown figures are present at many of the pueblo dances where they mimic individuals and help keep the people away from the dancers while interacting with individuals in the audience.

My first Pueblo experience with katchinas occurred at one of the winter dances. It was unnerving to watch as two appeared as black and white masked individuals, dressed in animal skins complete with coyote tails who struck the ground repeatedly with whips. One made a peace sign to me. Thrown off guard I had no idea how to respond. When I mirrored his action he laughed uproariously but also struck his whip on the ground! These “Whipper” or guard katchinas are scary individuals that are impossible to ignore.

The origin of kachinas is unknown. There is some evidence that points to a Mesoamerican origin; the similarity between the Hopi and the Aztec culture is striking. There are a few archeological hints that indicate that katchinas were present by the time the Hopi settled in Arizona in 1100 AD. The first katchina masks and dancers appear in rock art around 1325 AD.

By the 15th century masked dancers and carved katchina dolls had become part of the culture of various Puebloan tribes in Arizona and New Mexico. The masked katchina dancers impersonated the spirits who originally brought rain for the corn, beans and squash but eventually left the people and returned to the underworld (some Pueblo people believe the holy people return to the mountains).

When each dancer “becomes” one of the many kachinas, – chief/ elders who take part in the nine day ceremonies, warrior/guards, ogres/disciplinary function, runners/race with the men during dances, clowns/entertainers, and female katchinas/ mothers and sisters of other katchina spirits (all portrayed by men) are the six general categories of katchina spirits – it is believed that the spirit of the kachina portrayed enters that person’s body during the sacred rites that occur in the kiva before the ceremonial dances begin. To protect the individual from the power of these sacred forces many dancers wear a bear fetish under their regalia.

Katchina dolls are given to young girls by the katchina dancers. These dolls are hung on the walls to educate all the children about the functions of these powerful spirit beings (the boys receive bow and arrows from the katchinas instead of a doll). Ironically, early Christians perceived the dolls to be manifestations of the devil.

Although we have seen that there are both male and female katchinas only one katchina is actually danced by a woman. These generally all male ceremonies suggest to me that for the Hopi, although the clans may be matrilineal in terms of lineage, all spiritual power belongs to the men, strengthening the theory that the kachinas may have originated in Aztec culture. All other Pueblo cultures are also patrilineal.

According to the Hopi oral tradition these mostly benevolent spirits emerged from the underground with the Hopi people when Spider Grandmother caused a hollow reed to grow up towards the sky. The reed emerged from the sipapu into the Fourth World. The people were able to climb the reed and enter the present world escaping from darkness. Today Spider Grandmother seems to have been replaced with Tawa, the sun god.

The katchinas (more correctly called katsinas) emerged with the people and taught them how to hunt and grow crops, how to behave properly, and how to heal illness by collecting and using plants and herbs. These spirits may represent virtually anything from the sun, mountains, clouds or rain, animals, trees and plants to crops like squash, beans and corn. Sometimes they manifest as flowers like morning glories or squash blossoms. Animal katchinas like deer, white bear and great horned owl act as advisors, healers, and educators. They teach the people specifically how to use herbs for healing and how to avoid danger. All 400 or 500 katchinas provide guidance of some kind. Each one has a particular set of characteristics and a distinctive personality.

Katchinas appear just after the winter solstice and remain with the people until the crops are harvested in early August at after which they return to the spirit world underground. While staying with the Hopi/pueblo people the katchinas help to bring precious rain to the desert so that the crops will flourish. The Niman or farewell Hopi dance of the katchinas occurs in July and is one of their nine – day festivals that includes sacred rites in the kivas and a public dance at its close. Messengers are sent on long journeys for sacred water, pine boughs and other objects. In other pueblos a similar dance takes place.

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I am finishing this article on a day when the rains continue to fall sporadically gifting the red earth with precious moisture. I think this year the katchinas must be working very hard, because the spring (female) rains have turned our desert a thousand shades of sage green.

Above: “Warriot Woman” (danced by a man) courtesy of Bruce Nelson’s Katchina Collection.

Red Willow River

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Winding through the valley the river tells ancient stories about the peaceful people who lived along her red willow banks, long ago… I can almost see the women who gathered slender branches and made spiral baskets as the horned owl stood watch from the heavily ridged bark of the cottonwood trunk, perching so close to her center that his presence went almost unnoticed.

Softly rounded clay pots were fashioned from the clay in these waters by these same women whose handprints also remain on the adobe walls they plastered in the pueblo just across the river. Distinctive pots stored precious corn, squash, and bean seeds dried and ready for spring planting. Preparations were under way by the men who would still be practicing for the last of the winter hunting dances. Each animal acknowledged as a relative through the footsteps of each dancer – turtle, deer, antelope, and buffalo – each song a prayer of gratitude for the animal who sacrificed itself so the people could have meat to nourish their bodies, to keep them strong. Soon the men would begin clearing the ditches of winters’ debris. Each spring snow melt from the mountains floods the river to overflowing and these ditches will irrigate gardens and orchards, germinating new seeds.

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The Tewa once pecked pictures of the serpentine river on high desert stones and named him Avanyu. The serpent flicked tongues of lightening, spit thunderous roars and called down the rains with the holy people who came down from the mountains to help the people grow their precious crops. In the spring the Bow and Arrow dance was performed in his honor, and this tradition continues in Nambe today.

Water is life and the Pueblo people have not forgotten the importance of this essential element to all those who inhabit her desert, especially in the spring. Knowing that the elements of water, fire, earth and air continue to be honored by others as well as by myself offers me hope that the Gift that is Life will not succumb to the now catastrophic death-seeking human climate…

At dawn the sun bleeds red roses into the river and overhead the geese are climbing into a blushing sky; they too follow the curves of the deep blue green river… Mallards skim the surface of her waters, and a golden eagle soars out of an old cottonwood tree nearby.

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When I walk the little path I am lining with stones broken pottery shards appear out of red earth at my feet. A bevy of birds skitter through wiry thickets, perching in bushes and small trees waiting for me to break the ice and fill their water dishes. Nuthatches, chickadees, towhees, juncos, finches, sparrows, the magpie – In the brief time I’ve been here I count sixteen new species, not including water – fowl. Sandhill cranes spread the word that spring is coming with their haunting songs joining the rest of the aerial crowd flowing with and flying along the river. In my mind I imagine that I can see with the eagle’s golden eye this wending stream, a path made of water, snaking her way to the sea.As I approach and open a rusty rose sculptured creaking gate some geese and ducks are resting on stones that form riffles and ribbons of quicksilver under a shimmering sun. Far away to the west the wind begins to blow… I am a woman in waiting. The rising waters of the coming season seem to be flowing through my body too.